Angela from the West Stand reports from Gelsenkirchen:
The ground itself was fantastic though our seats were disappointing. Although close to the pitch we were sat to the side of a huge perspex partition. We were sitting along from the dugouts towards the corner flag and it was hard to understand why these partitions were erected at each corner – possibly some sort of segregation. Whilst we could see the goal in front of us clearly, looking up the rest of the pitch was like looking through a big window. It was most odd and we agreed with those sitting around us (who had all got their tickets in the extra allocation sale) that they really didn’t feel like Cat 1 seats.
We watched the team arrive on the big screen and walk out on the pitch. We were all struck (and this is ironic) by how focused Stephen Gerrard looked as he stood apart from the rest of the players, arms folded, staring directly forward – not looking up to the crowd to spot friends and family as most of the rest of them did. Surely a positive sign.
I thought it was a cracking game. At half time we felt confident that England could make the break through and get the single goal which would probably be enough to win it. Yes, Beckham and Lampard were still anonymous but Owen Hargreaves was playing out of his skin and Rooney was working hard. Frustratingly it seemed as though no-one wanted to take on the final shot but instead they all wanted to pass in front of goal and walk the ball into the net. What ever happened to the selfish striker? But the defence looked solid (we thought Ashley Cole in particular had an excellent game though I have seen thatthe press didn’t necessarily agree), and Portugal didn’t seem to be threateningtoo much. Of course there was the inevitable frustration with the diving and the continual looking for fouls but we seemed to be holding our own. We talked about our ideal changes: take Lampard off, move Beckham inside and bring on Lennon was favourite. So when the second half started and Beckham limped off to be replaced by Lennon we all saw it as a real positive. Surely now with Lennonrunning at them, Rooney’s menace would really be unleashed and it was only a
matter of time.
Well a matter of time it was and Rooney soon departed. We didn’t know it was for a stamp. I thought it was for a push. Of course it’s galling that he should have had a free kick moments before it all happened, but he should know better. So there we were, backs to the wall, Crouch up front and I thought we were fabulous. The rest of the second half and the whole of extra time were incredibly tense. The noise in the stadium was deafening – truly the crowd were the “eleventh man” and we roared them on in total belief that if we could get to penalties, we would go through. At the end of extra time all our talk was of who he would play in the semi-final. Crouch and Walcott up front in a 4-4-2? Of course the striker selection now looked even sillier, but it was going to be interesting that’s for sure.
This is the second time I have seen England lose on penalties – both times to Portugal. Funnily enough I didn’t feel very nervous when they started honestly thinking that we’d done enough to justify getting through and sooner or later, life has to be fair doesn’t it? As soon as Lampard missed that all changed and gut wrenching nerves took over. One down but then Hargreaves stepped up – after such a fabulous game he wouldn’t let us down. One all and they missed, so come on Stevie Gerrard.
For me Gerrard’s miss will always be the one that counted. How come this player who singled handedly dragged Liverpool back from 3-0 down in the Champions League final and went on to score a penalty took such a tame shot? What is it about those great club players who never quite do it for their country? Where was your arms folded, forward gazing composure now Stephen Gerrard? The disappointment was overwhelming and when Jamie Carragher retook his kick doing the silly hesitation thing we knew it was all over. Up steps Christiano – hated by so many (especially me) and despite his histrionics, his diving and cheating, he kept his cool AND he did the silly hesitation thing and still scored his penalty. Game over.
So who do I blame? Sven I suppose for his ability to take our supposed embarrassment of riches in midfield and turn it into a plain embarrassment; for his silly squad selection; and for his clear inability either to motivate and get the best out of some players or to instill responsibility and discipline in others. Though of course the buck stops with the eleven on the pitch and having looked as though we wanted it so badly for 120 minutes, we seemed to turn round in penalties and say “oh go on then, you have it.” It’s as though we can do the hard things, but the easy bits escape us.