Out on penalties, again

I was disappointed to see England go out against Portugal, especially in the same manner in which they exited Euro 2004. I’m still not sure about why Rooney drew the red card, to me it looked like he was trying to fight through a foul and accidentally stepped on the Portuguese defender, but I think it would be a bit much for England to blame the loss on that. England never looked like scoring with Rooney alone 30 meters in front of the midfield, in fact, all of their best chances came when they were down to ten men and had Crouch winning long balls up front.

I thought it was a mistake to start Gary Neville in back, but this time he managed to avoid getting burned and even made a few Roberto Carlos-like runs up the touch line. That worked out fine, but Sven’s decision to stick with the misguided 4-5-1 formation really blunted England’s ability to attack.

Portugal was unimpressive, except for Ricardo’s aplomb in defending penalties. Figo is a very skilled player, but a poor leader and his tendency to fall and look for the foul every time he gets touched slows their attack down to molasses. Christian Ronaldo and Maniche were good, but except for one or two moments, Portugal never looked dangerous even when up a man.

And so the long, tawdry saga of Sven Goran Erickson comes to an end. I think I’ll actually miss the old pervy, freaky-haired Swede and the bizarre headlines he always managed to generate, but I think England will do better without him. I don’t think England fans should be too disappointed, as even if they had managed to get past the Portugeuse, they never looked like beating France, still less Brazil.

As for the second game, I will be shocked if France manages to stay with Brazil this time. Brazil has been on cruise control up until now, but they’ll be looking to revenge their 3-0 defeat in the 1998 final so I expect to see more out of them this afternoon.

UPDATE: I am shocked, but also pleased, to have the chance to see more Zidane in action after the French captain lead his team to an upset of the favorites. He was simply fantastic today, and while he may no longer be “at the pinnacle of his art”, he is still a player of rare grace and skill. Knowing it would probably be his last international game seemed to take the pressure off him, he was quite visibly having a good time and his spirit seemed to rub off on the rest of the team. Ronaldinho may be the two-time world player of the year, but he was lost in Zhizou’s shadow throughout the game.

France played very well, like the France of 1998. Of course, with only a few exceptions, this is the France of 1998. I don’t think Brazil should have started Ronaldo, who was completely ineffective, but the real problem was in the midfield which saw Kaka, Gilberto and Ronaldinho dominated by Zidane, Ribery and Viera. Like Beckham, I think Ronaldinho is at his best on the wing, and it’s interesting to see how even a supremely skilled team cannot produce much attacking force without a solid base in the midfield. Despite the low score, it was one of the more entertaining games of this world cup.

I still think the Germans and the Portugeuse are pretenders, so I’m expecting a replay of the Euro 2000 championship in the final. This time, however, Italy should outlast the aging French team.