Tony Cascarino, in Portugal for Euro 2004, on England’s extraordinary self-destruction against France
I’ve never been to a funeral with 50,000 people, but that’s exactly what it felt like in the Stadium of Light on Sunday when England self-destructed against France. Of all the various scenarios you thought of beforehand, that wasn’t one of them and Sven’s now got a major job on his lands to lift the team for their games against Switzerland and Croatia. The latter one is the trickiest because although they’re not very adventurous upfront the Eastern Europeans are extremely physical and hard to break down.
While England didn’t deserve to lose, they’d been riding their luck by allowing Zidane to get on the ball and dictate the play. In addition to that you had Beckham sitting in front of Gary Neville and not really being a threat, Owen was anonymous and Scholes was decidedly average as well.
Most England supporters’ reaction to the free-kick going in was, “You idiot Heskey!” for him giving it away, but James’ positioning was very poor. Good strike or not, Zidane didn’t go up and over the wall and he should have read it better than he did. I know it was all hands on deck, but there was no need for Heskey to challenge for that ball when there were two defenders behind him who could have taken care of it without conceding a foul. You wouldn’t have found Henry or Trezeguet tackling back like that, that’s for sure!
The players were absolutely gutted, as you would be if you’d been within touching distance of such a historic victory. The worst moment of my international career was when, looking like we were heading to Euro 2000, we conceded a last minute header to Macedonia. It hurts like hell to miss out on a major tournament, especially when you know that you’re not going to be around for the next one.
If I was Sven, I’d make them watch a video of the first 90 minutes of the game and pinpoint the things they did right and the things they did wrong. Then I’d forget all about France and prepare for the game against Switzerland as if it was a Cup Final that has to be won, which it is unless they’re to rely on other results getting them through.
If you thought the “Golden Balls Up” headlines were bad, you should have seen the savaging the Portuguese lads got in their papers. The talk before the Greek game was how many they were going to win by, not whether there was a danger of them dropping points to a side that’s never won a game in a tournament before. Most of the flak was directed at Luis Figo who released an official statement begging for the country’s forgiveness – I doubt you’d get that from any of the England players, though Beckham was big enough to acknowledge that his penalty miss was crucial.
Defeat in their opening game or not, the Portuguese supporters have been wonderfully welcoming, and the police a lot lower key than you might have imagined. I don’t want to tempt fate, but I haven’t seen any trouble among the England fans who filed out of the Stadium of Light in a very orderly fashion.
Of course, somebody who’d have been watching Sunday’s game with avid interest was Brian Kerr. He knows that France are the footballing equivalent of Sugar Ray Leonard, prize fighters who knock somebody out in the 15th when they’re behind on points, but given how Wayne Rooney frightened the life out of the French defence he’ll be telling Robbie Keane and Damien Duff to run at them whenever possible. If Chelsea were interested in him before, they’ll be prepared to break the bank now to bring Rooney to Stamford Bridge. I know they’re looking to sign him to a long-term contract, but if Everton are offered £30 million for him they have to sell for the sake of bringing in the four or five players they so desperately need.
While you can’t read too much into friendlies, I thought Ireland were tremendous against the Dutch and could have won it by two or three instead of just the one. Robbie caused a good defence all sorts of problems, so we should go into the game against France thinking that maybe we can get something out of it.