- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany — Of the certainties in life — death and taxes among them — one is the fate of England’s soccer team in a penalty shootout.

Fielding what many thought was its best team in decades, England lost to Portugal yesterday, yet again in penalties.

After a scoreless 120 minutes, with England playing nearly half of them with 10 men because of star Wayne Rooney’s red card, Portugal won in a shootout 3-1 before 52,000 mostly English fans at AufSchalke Arena in Gelsenkirchen.

It was the fifth time England lost in a major tournament on penalties and the third time at the World Cup, losing in a shootout to Germany at the 1990 semifinal, and Argentina in the second round in 1998.

This shootout was a repeat of the Euro 2004 semifinal in Portugal, when Rooney was injured after 30 minutes, and the hosts went on to win on penalty kicks. Yesterday, it was midfielder David Beckham who left injured at halftime, leaving England without two stars for most of the game.

Simao Sabrosa, Helder Postiga and Cristiano Ronaldo converted their shots for Portugal, while England’s normally reliable Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, along with Jamie Carragher, watched their shots saved by Portugal goalie Alexandre Ricardo. Owen Hargreaves converted England’s second kick after Lampard’s shot was saved, while Portugal’s Hugo Viana hit the post with his team’s second kick followed by Armando Petit’s miss.

With the win, Portugal advanced to the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1966, the year England beat Portugal to reach the final and win its only World Cup.

Like much of this tournament, the game had its fair share of controversy. Beckham left the field with a serious knee injury and England was denied at least two penalty opportunities, one in the 51st minute when Nuno Valente handled the ball in the box and again when substitute Aaron Lennon was tackled from behind by Valente deep into extra time.

There was even controversy in the penalty shootout, when Carragher scored on his first attempt but the referee ordered him to retake his kick for starting too quickly and Carragher missed his second attempt. Ronaldo then converted his shot, ending coach Sven-Goren Eriksson’s five-year reign as England’s coach with another quarterfinal loss.

“We practiced penalties so much, I really don’t know what more we could do about it,” said Eriksson, who leaves England after taking the team to the quarterfinals of three tournaments. “I was sure these players could get to the final and we should have done it. We gave a good performance but we’re out and that’s very painful. I’m sorry for the fans, who have been fantastic, that we couldn’t give them a final.”

Once again Portugal’s coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, a Gene Hackman lookalike, got the better of Eriksson. He has beaten Eriksson-coached teams three times. Scolari leads Portugal in the semifinals against 1998 champion France, surprise 1-0 winners over Brazil later yesterday.

It looked bad for England when Beckham hobbled off in the 52nd minute after being clipped on the ankle by Ronaldo, who harassed England all night with his nifty runs and dribbling skills. Beckham was replaced by Lennon, who had an immediate impact with his fast runs on the right flank and working in tandem with the 6-foot-7 substitute Peter Crouch, who became England’s lone striker after Rooney’s ejection.

Rooney’s red card in the 62nd minute seriously hampered England and brought back memories of 1998, when a young Beckham was sent off against Argentina. Rooney wrestled with Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho, and both players fell to the ground. As Rooney rose to his feet, he stepped on Carvalho’s groin. A melee broke out with Ronaldo, Rooney’s teammate at Manchester United, urging the referee for a caution. Referee Horatio Elizondo, who tossed Beckham in the 1999 World Club Championships, awarded the red card to Rooney, leaving England a man down.

“I must say they fought enormously when it was 10 against 11,” Eriksson said. “We started the second half very well and controlled the game exactly what we wanted to do. Then there was the sending off. We held the game up very well and lost on penalties again and I’m really sorry about that. I don’t think we deserved to lose and I think the boys deserved better.”

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