Stadium of Light, Lisbon, Portugal, June 13th 2004.
FRANCE 2 – (Zidane – 90mins, 93mins)
ENGLAND 1 – (Lampard – 38mins)
Heartbreak! All of England stood in disbelief at the result of this game. Things were going so well. But then at the death England snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. England had played so well for the whole game and had matched France, who are widely regarded as the best in the world, but let themselves down in added time. England had taken the lead through an excellent Frank Lampard header shortly before halftime and had doggedly defended the waves and waves of French attacks before conceding two soft goals in the final seconds.
England could have gone two-nil up, but England captain David Beckham missed his penalty on 73 minutes into the game. In the 90th minute, substitute Emile Heskey gave away a clumsy free kick in the edge of the England penalty area, which French captain (and best player in the world) Zinedine Zidane beautifully converted under pressure. Then if that was too much for the England fans, the following calamity was a bitter pill to swallow. Steven Gerrard gave a carelessly underwieghted back-pass to goalkeeper David James which French super-striker Thierry Henry was on to like a shot. James did nothing but bundle into Henry and take him down in the area. Penalty! English hearts sank to their boots, which French fans are elated. Zidane – that man again – steps up and shows Real Madrid colleague Beckham how a penalty should be taken. 2-1 France. Game over.
Still, all is not lost. The only two teams who I think really look like winning Euro 2004 at the moment are France and England. Many predict that these two teams will face a re-match in the final!
England’s performance – 9/10
England played very well and took everything that the French could throw at them. Unfortunately, the last two minutes of added time spoiled all England’s perseverance and effort. However, it must be noted that England did not look outclassed by the French. This can only be a good thing since the French team are arguably the best in the world – certainly the best in Europe. Under coach Sven-Göran Eriksson, England have only lost two competitive games – and those were against France and Brazil. Now that’s hardly anything to be ashamed of.
England individual player performances:
David James – 5/10
James was never really tested in the England goal. The defence played very well and France didn’t get the chance to make him work. However, James’ game was not free from mistakes. He was stood in no-man’s-land right smack in the middle of the goal when facing Zinedine Zidane’s 91st minute free kick, and in no position to save it should it head to either corner of the goal. His sight of the ball was also blocked by the England wall from where he was standing. Although, Zidane’s shot on goal was of such quality, it may have made no difference where James was stood. James also brought down Thierry Henry in the penalty area. Admittedly he had only a split second to think, but had he remained on his feet Henry would still have had to do a lot of work to score. Sliding in and taking him out was not the best option and he should have at the presence of mind needed at this level to realise that in the heat of the moment.
Ashley Cole – 7/10
Cole played fairly well and largely succeeded in defending against Arsenal clubmate Robert Pires. He lost the ball too many times for my liking and didn’t make too much effort to get many crosses into the French penalty area. Still, he didn’t make any major errors – a good performance, though not exceptional.
Sol Campbell – 8/10
Solid, reliable, and was always there to make blocks and tackles. Did his job well and didn’t make any errors. I haven’t always rated Campbell – in fact I used to see him as a liability – but in more recent years he has slimmed down and quickened up, and become a reliable player. Good performance.
Ledley King – 9/10
This was only his second international start. And what a game to be thrown into! King was a replacement for the injured John Terry. I rate Terry most highly and was a little disconcerted when I heard he wouldn’t be playing against France. However, King soon showed me that I need not have worried. The 23-year-old gave an absolutely masterful performance at the heart of England’s defence. He gave the French attackers no quarter whatsoever, and turned away all they threw at him with seemingly astonishing ease. I wouldn’t mind at all if King kept his place in the squad at Terry’s expense if he will play like that. A wonderful performance.
Gary Neville – 7.5/10
Neville is always a reliable player. He never lets you down and this game was no different. He’s never excellent, but never poor, and it’s good to have a player who you can count on like that. Didn’t do anything special, but his absence would have been noticeable.
Paul Scholes – 7/10
A few years ago Scholes was great. However in recent years his form has declined and a lot of the time when playing for England it seems as though he has just been making up the numbers. He hasn’t scored for three years after all. But, in this game he played pretty well, linking the passing together. He wasn’t much of a defensive presence, but then his tackling is not the best side of his game, and often results in a yellow card. Not a bad effort from Scholes.
Steven Gerrard – 7/10
Gerrard was widely spoken of as England’s most influential player before the game. However, it seemed as if the pressure got to him. He seemed to lack the exuberant confidence and drive that is such an integral part of his game. For instance, there was one point where he was charging with the ball towards the French goal that was indicative of his performance - normally he would have had a shot on goal, but the Gerrard that showed up for this game laid the ball off to David Beckham, and the attack fizzled out to nothing. Perhaps Gerrard was holding back so the he would not be caught by a French counter-attack. But maybe the pressure got to him. The coach needs to sit him down and tell him just how good he is. Perhaps then he won’t give such a lacklustre performance. Oh yes – and the less said about his terrible back-pass to David James that let Thierry Henry in on goal to win that now infamous penalty, the better.
Frank Lampard – 8/10
Lampard’s meteoric rise to form over the past two seasons has seen him rise to become an integral part of the England midfield, and he is now along with Steven Gerrard, one of the two best midfielders in the English Premiership. Lampard’s headed goal to put England in the lead was unstoppable for French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez. Altogether a good performance and helped to keep the French midfield as under control as possible.
David Beckham – 7/10
England’s captain fantastic didn’t have one of his better games. He supplied a good cross from a free kick to provide Frank Lampard with his goal, but aside from that he never seemed to get in the game. Perhaps the French didn’t let him, or maybe he just had an off day. The major criticism of Beckham’s performance was his penalty miss. It really wasn’t a good penalty, although Fabien Barthez made a good save. If he had scored things would have turned out very differently.
Michael Owen – 6/10
Owen just never got in the game. He didn’t really contribute anything, though he didn’t let the team down or make any glaring errors. There’s really nothing I can say about his performance because he didn’t have one.
Wayne Rooney – 9.5/10
Rooney had an absolutely excellent game. At only 18 years of age he is a phenomenally gifted player and he always looks good playing for England. But this was by far and away his best game. He was sharp, dangerous, a persistent threat, and unfazed by the French superstars. He was tenacious, dropping back into midfield and winning the ball off of the French for himself, rather than waiting up field for people to give the ball to him. His run on goal that resulted in Mikaël Silvestre hacking him down to concede a penalty was indicative of his intentions the whole game. He was probably England’s best player and my vote for man of the match. His performance was only slightly marred by letting the French players get his temper riled up.
Darius Vassell – 7.5/10
Vassell came on for the ineffective Michael Owen midway through the second half. He was full of running and didn’t do badly at all. Certainly made more of an impact than Owen had done for the whole game.
Owen Hargreaves – 7.5/10
Hargreaves came on for Paul Scholes towards the end of the game. This was a fairly straight swap and Hargreaves did pretty well and defended well against the French onslaught at the end of the game.
Emile Heskey – 2/10
Came on for Wayne Rooney towards the end of the game. Rooney was our best player, but was getting tired due to his tremendous workload. Even two out of ten is a generous rating for Heskey’s performance. Heskey should not be playing for England. He is simply not good enough. He doesn’t have the skills or football instinct that is required at this level. Every other player on the pitch was in another league and he looked like a fish out of water. His very poor challenge which resulted in France’s equalising free kick was indicative of his unintelligent and clumsy play.
Sven-Göran Eriksson – 6/10
Eriksson picked the right team to take the field of play against France. And he played them in the 4-4-2 formation that works best for them, rather than playing the infamous “diamond” formation that has never seemed to work. However, Eriksson let his performance down by his decision to substitute Wayne Rooney with Emile Heskey near the end of the game. When that happened, I had a sinking feeling and thought that maybe things would not go right after all for England. If Rooney needed replacing, then an additional holding midfielder, such as Nicky Butt would have been a far better choice.
Apologies to French fans, but this write-up is intended to focus on England's performance only.