When Chris Waddle’s shoulders slumped in Turin as he watched his penalty soar high into the humid night sky a nation mourned as one.
The dream that had twinkled and tantalised from Gazza’s boots during that now famous 1990 campaign vanished with a consolidatory hug from Matthaus and I recall being rendered dumbstruck with the disbelief of grief. This was soon followed by an awful hollowness at having what was felt to be our rightful destiny snatched from us.
We were so close. Close enough to visualise the ultimate glory that would have surely come had we faced a beatable Argentina. What is more, that glory would have been deserved; a reward for the fantastic, enterprising football we showed to the world.
Can anyone truthfully say the same about last night? Would the solid but ponderous England team that Roy Hodgson had assembled at such short notice have stood a cat in hell’s chance against the fluid and shrewd Germans? Was there even the slightest feeling of injustice from the result?
Personally the only negative emotion that arose from seeing Diamanti tuck away the deciding spot-kick was frustration. When we deserve to progress fortune is against us. When we don’t deserve it Lady Luck still screws us just the same.
The cold hard facts are thus –
England are presently a very ordinary side that contained several players in key positions who woefully under-performed throughout. Milner toiled but was completely ineffective on one flank whilst Young was abject on the other. Terry got pulled out of position time and again with Cole enduring a stinker of a competition by his usual exceptional standards. In the middle Parker may get brownie points from those with St Georges tattooed on their arses for his endless commitment but when compared him to the scheming artful Pirlo it’s enough to make a grown man weep.
We offered very little ambition, like one of those little ships in Space Invaders plodding left and right across the screen hoping to somehow make it to the bottom without being shot down. What scant possession we managed to string together was safe and predictable. There was a complete absence of imagination, intent or a plan B (unless you count bringing on the pace of Walcott and the height of Carroll which is more a plan 1973). There wasn’t even much energy besides central midfield hustling.
In the plus column we had shape – which hopefully gives Hodgson a foundation to now build upon – which consequently made us hard to beat. And we had heart and Hart.
When all of this is weighed up to exit the tournament undefeated in open play is actually a mark of over-achievement.
Despite the cautious optimism that collectively crept in after the group stage it would have taken a very vivid imagination to envisage England going all the way this time. So for once there was no crushing disappointment from yet another penalty woe, more of an admiration that they’d got so far as to experience it at all.