The second installment of ‘England’s Excuses’ takes a view on how England’s inability to keep 11 men on the pitch at the 1998 and 2006 World Cups cost them dearly.
In the knock-out phase of major tournaments with the sides set at 11 vs 11, England are usually set to play smart, cautious football and proceed to the latter stages without incident. Alas, there have been times at certain World Cups where the officials have been out to get the hard-working, honest England lads, or they have been subject to gamesmanship by those foreign nasties who deal in the dark arts of the modern game which the admirable and sincere Three Lions have never ever been privy to.
The last time England took part in a major tournament on French soil it all ended in tears. World Cup 1998 coach Glenn Hoddle ended up getting sacked for some ludicrous comments about disabled people’s actions in a previous life, one of England’s brightest young talents found himself the nation’s public enemy number one and to make matters worse, poor old Eileen Drewery, the eccentric faith-healer employed by Hoddle, found herself out of a job as well.
After the highs and lows of hosting Euro 96, the positive vibes from England in the 90s spilled into the national team and optimism filled the country’s living rooms as the nation welcomed a new Prime Minister. Oh boy, what a let down it was going to be.
England cruised through the Group stages with wins against Tunisia and Colombia, goals from Scholes, Beckham, Shearer and even Darren ‘sick note’ Anderton made sure England would be in the last-16. Although a loss to Romania sustained in the last minute thanks to Chelsea recruit Dan Petrescu in the final group game raised a few doubts, England marched on nonetheless.
In the last-16 England met Argentina, one of their many foes. In the opening 15 minutes England’s hearts were tortured through a range of emotion. Firstly, Argentina we awarded a penalty inside the first five minutes which Batistuta converted, then the referee awarded one England’s way which Alan Shearer tucked into the net, before an18-year-old Michael Owen introduced himself to the world and made it 2-1 with a mesmerizing run and finish. Unfortunately for England, Javier Zanetti brought Argentina back to level terms just before the half-time break.
Minutes into the second half disaster struck. David Beckham earned himself a red card for aiming a silly flick, maybe a glance, a graze at most, in the direction of Diego Simeone with his boot. The Argentine dropped to the floor like he’d been taken out by a sniper, and as the rest of La Albiceleste surrounded the referee, Kim Milton Nielsen, the official that day, raised a red card, condemning England to another defeat, on penalties no less in far from regular circumstances.
10 men England did fight on bravely as they truly performed like lions but they would be taking the trip home across The Channel the next day. An excerpt from what appeared in the newspapers the next day, The Times sports editor, Henry Winter summarizes it best:
“Beckham’s expulsion was to have particularly harmful ramifications right at the death. One of the finest purveyors of a dead ball in this tournament, Beckham would have been among the five to address England’s penalties. He would have stood in for Ince, who did not take one at Euro 96, or Batty, not a noted penalty-taker. Shearer, Paul Merson and Owen all hit the mark but Carlos Roa made two fine saves.”
Argentina went on to get knocked out by Holland in the quarters, Holland were defeated by Brazil in the semis and in turn Brazil lost to hosts France in the final. That was a good England team with a good coach who could’ve gone far.
In the 2006 World Cup quarter-final against Portugal the English’s hot headed bulldog spirit let them down once again. This time it was another emerging talent who quite literally saw red. This time it was a much clearer red card than David Beckham’s eight years previous, a stamp disguised as a stumble, which appeared worse in the melee that followed.
Wayne Rooney announced himself in England for Everton with a stunning long-range effort that beat Arsenal’s David Seaman at Goodison Park. Sven Goran-Eriksson, not one to waste any time about getting down to business, pretty much immediately included the youngster in every single England outing from that goal in late 2002 onwards. Rooney’s mercurial talent came at a price, but a little hot headedness seemed like a small price to pay for such a phenomenal player, until it cost them.
With the game set at a 0-0 stalemate in Gelsenkirchen, Rooney tussled in the center circle with Ricardo Carvalho, as the defender went down behind him Rooney jutted a boot towards the Chelsea man’s nether regions. If there was ever an illustration of ‘right under the referees nose’ necessary, this was it. The referee gave a free kick and appeared to wait for the game to restart, what happened next as the Portugal players surrounded the official is where the injustice lives and breathes.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United team mate, was the first on the scene, he appealed, gestured suggesting malpractice and appeared to mimic Rooney’s guilty action which was enough to convince the referee to reach into his back pocket and dismiss the Englishman. Then, cruelly, and all caught on camera, Ronaldo sent a knowing wink back at his team’s bench suggesting he had a part to play in it all.
Of course, like the spirit of Dunkirk, England fought valiantly to try and limit further damage and hobbled through to penalties after the 120 minutes stayed 0-0, but they met their end thanks to an inspired shoot-out performance by Portugal’s keeper Ricardo.
After England were again subject to a red card, again knocked out on penalties and again sent home with all the what if’s and maybe’s one could muster, the English press went into overdrive The Guardian describe the feelings of resentment and disappointment at the time:
“England should have got past Portugal – even with 10 men. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s unbeaten run in World Cup matches is extended to a dozen – not to mention his supposed jinx over Sven Goran Eriksson and England in major championships – but the winners here will be extraordinarily lucky to advance past the semi-finals.
Had England played to anywhere near their potential, had they not lost Wayne Rooney to a red card after 61 minutes, they might have punished the outrageous profligacy of a Portugal team stripped not only of their influential playmakers Costinha and Deco, but a sense of decency and, more pertinently, any notion of adventure.”
Portugal went on to lose 1-0 to France in the semi-final before they were in turn beaten by Italy on penalties in the final in Berlin. Could England have beaten Portugal 11 vs 11? If yes, then they would’ve at least stood a chance against France and Italy.