Sunday, July 02, 2006

disheartened england

A week has gone by, and I am back to the West. It has been quiet here since the past week. I am just back from an entertaining, yet disheartening football game - England vs Portugal.

For any football fans, who know the background of this matchup, it is not just about England vs Portugal. It is also about Sven Goran Eriksson vs Scolari. Since World Cup 2002 in Korea-Japan, Sven's England have met Scolari's men three including tonight's game. Scolari have had the upper hand in the duels, masterminding 2002 Brazil's journey to the World Cup title; and also 2004 Portugal's run in to the Final.

Scolari's men edged out Sven's Englishmen 2-0 in World Cup 2002, while holding on to victory after penalty shootout in Euro 2004. As for today's hot point, it still stirs around Sven's matchup against Scolari, as well as England's championship credentials since their title winning campaign in 1966.

With their current lineup, there are little doubts why global citizens have put high hope on the Three Lions. Despite that, England have had a shaky start to this year's campaign. Although remained unbeaten 4 games in this year's tournament (before today's match), England's victories had been far from convincing. England 1 - 0 Paraguay, England 2 - 0 Trinidad & Tobago, England 2 - 2 Sweden, England 1 - 0 Ecuador.

Nevertheless, they are now in the quarter-finals against Scolari's men. From the start of the whistle, the game kicked off with style and tempo. Both teams are pushing for the opening goal, and that spelt interesting game flow.

Exciting it has been for the first 45 minutes. Despite lack of shots on goal, the game didn't really bore at all. Rooney played up front alone again, but this time. The game was much, much livelier compared to the previous encounters. England and Portugal shared posessions equally towards the end of first half.

With the first half looked promising, England seemed to be on their way to end their jinx in major tournament until the 51st minute. England skipper - Beckham had to be substituted due to injury. Just before Becks came off, England had a penalty claim turned down by referee after Nuno Valente handled the ball in the penalty box. It was unjust for England. That was not it yet.

Beckham's replacement Aaron Lennon could have won another penalty for England, but the Argentine referee didn't agree on that. Play on, he said.

England's road to glory took another big blow on the hour mark when Wayne Rooney was given a red card for pushing Cristiano Ronaldo. This was not what it should have been. Prior to the incident, Rooney was being fouled by Portugese defender - Ricardo Carvalho, (I think he was the one who 'caused' Rooney to have the injury during Manchester United's 3 - 0 lost against Chelsea) he was pulling Rooney, trying to bring him down. The ref was slow at his whistle and that triggers the fuse between players. Cristiano Ronaldo came over to have a word with the ref in Latin (I assume) as soon as the whistle was blown. Rooney was clearly frustrated with that, and gave his Manchester United club mate a minor shove.

The ref felt that was not right and reached for the red card. That dented England's hope as Rooney was again sent off for his ferocious temperament. Frankly, I thought the red card was too harsh for Rooney boy as a yellow card cautious will be sufficiently justified.

England had to played with 10 men after the hour mark. After losing their lone striker, Sven opted to bring down the creative and efficient Joe Cole for the lanky (yet ineffective) Peter Crouch. (This also may mean England would be playing with another man less - 9 men) I would have hoped for Frank Lampard was the one to be sub out, as he again showed fatigue and was clearly off-form. He was nowhere near the Lampard in Chelsea who won praises from the pundits.

I must say England have won praises after holding Portugal till end of 90 minutes. It was a mountain to climb to play Portugal with just 10 men. They did not just sit back and stay behind the ball throughout the match. They had kept pushing Portugese goal for the winning goal, unfortunately, that never materialized.

So, both team head into extra time. No goals were produced, and we had penalty shootout. Just like the commentator had said, "The English fans had given up hope of winning this match as soon as Rooney was sent off, anything beyond that is a bonus." Bonus it was, penalty shootout was the only realistic chance for England to pull through.

However, having to played with a man down for about an hour is a clear disadvantage for the Englishmen. Fatigued Lampard and Gerrard missed their kicks, while Carragher had his second attempt saved by the outstanding Ricardo. Ronaldo gave the killer blow to England with Portugal's final kick. Some may wonder if he'll be able to play again in England with most of English fans (possibly even Manchester United's fan) to jeer him wherever he kicks the ball.

For me, England's man of the match could easily be Owen Hargreaves. He had been outstanding throughout the match. He played well in the holding position. Especially when Lampard was struggling, Rooney was sent off, he gave England the extra push in the absense of Joe Cole. He was the best player especially after Rooney's sent off. Aaron Lennon was also influencial as soon as he stepped onto the pitch.

It was really disheartening to see England disqualified this way. They fought well. Nevertheless, this is football. The bottom line will always be, Portugal advance, England eliminated.

Bravo, England. Embrace for the new era under Steve McLaren's helm!

Up Next: Brazil vs France (NOW!)
My prediction: Brazil edging France.

Semi-Final matchup (partial prediction):
Germany vs Italy
Brazil vs Portugal

Brazil vs Germany
Brazil will win their sixth title. I initially predicted all South American final, but that can never be materialized after Argentina undeservingly being eliminated by host Germany.

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