England crash out

by Chris Bertram on June 25, 2004

Brian Weatherson watched the England–Croatia game with us the other night, so he can attest to the general level of invective directed towards the television at Chateau Bertram. But, whilst I didn’t watch last night’s proceedings with detachment, I can say that one event followed another with the depressing inevitability all long-term England watchers expect. The early goal (Michael Owen, 6/1 at bluesquare.com — thanks very much!) reminiscent of Germany-England 1996 followed by the Portuguese equalizer just before the 90 minutes. Then the disallowed goal (an exact re-run of England-Argentina 1998), all ending, finally, with the penalty-shoot-out (too many precendents to bother listing here). At least we can enjoy the rest of the tournament free of “Rooneymania” and most of the St George’s crosses will disappear from assorted motor vehicles. Come on the Czech Republic!



Kris 06.25.04 at 10:04 am

i thought the match was between portugal and england- what does the czech republic have to do with this.
and you are right- we can now enjoy the rest of the tournament without all that rooneymania.


Kris 06.25.04 at 10:05 am

i thought the match was between portugal and england- what does the czech republic have to do with this.
and you are right- we can now enjoy the rest of the tournament without all that rooneymania.


Erik 06.25.04 at 10:45 am

I feel sorry for England although I was a bit disappointed by the reaction of the commentators and studio guests on the BBC last night. After seeing the tv images, I think Campbell’s goal was good. Nevertheless, Terry had his arm on the goalkeeper’s shoulder in the protected area. My guess is that 70% of European refs would make that call, like it or not. I thought it was a bit overdone to ask Eriksson whether they had been playing against “12 men” and to chastise the ref as a “homer,” also because there really was nothing to complain about before. Tough to lose this way though.


jdsm 06.25.04 at 11:14 am

As an Englishman I was incredibly surprised to wake up this morning and find that anyone was complaining about Sol Campbell’s goal being ruled out. There must be some psychological evidence that the desire to win radically distorts otherwise functioning sense apparatus.

England, sorry to say, did not deserve to win. They defended for all but the first fifteen minutes and the last ten of extra time. It was tragic after their displays against France and Croatia.


Andrew Boucher 06.25.04 at 11:44 am

Thanks but I’ll remain a baseball and basketball fan. Too many results in (European) football turn on a ref’s call.


P. Hoolahan 06.25.04 at 1:55 pm

Thanks but I’ll remain a baseball and basketball fan. Too many results in (European) football turn on a ref’s call.

Yes, exactly. When a typical score is 1-0 or 2-1, the ref’s decision to award a penalty kick (or not), or to disallow a goal, assumes overwhelming importance. Add the size of the playing surface, the absence of TV replays and the likelihood that the (single) ref was out of position to make a proper call, and one is left with the conclusion that the outcome in many matches has little to do with the actual playing of the game. I was raised on football/soccer, and I still love to play and watch it, but there is something inherently dysfunctional in its rules (making “offside” a static fact, as in hockey, would improve things enormously — as the TV replays constantly demonstrate) and, especially, in the way it is officiated. And please don’t invoke “tradition”, i.e. that to have survived this long and become this popular the sport must be doing things right. As is the case with many other things in this world (religion, politics… need I elaborate?) football is where it is today despite its faults. It is frustrating to see a wonderful sport hobbled by archaic practices. Reform is desperately overdue.


q 06.25.04 at 2:39 pm

Well from a utilitarian point of view, it was the right result:
– the host team won
– the visitors put up a great fight
– both sides feel they were lucky (and unlucky)
– everyone gets to feel that it was a good game
– and we all got 120 minutes instead of 90 plus a penalty shootout.


Ling 06.25.04 at 3:27 pm

Agree completely, Hoolahan. Especially about the penalty kick. It is the “capital punishment” of football and should have been repealed long ago. Some graded system of fouls should be instituted in its stead. For a less flagrant foul in the box why not add a free kick from outside the box with only a two-man wall allowed (or something similar)? And if FIFA is serious in wanting more goals, liberalizing the offside rule (e.g. eliminate all “offsides” once the ball has crossed a certain line) would be a good start.


Randy Paul 06.25.04 at 3:38 pm

I think that the offside rule is fine as it is. If you want more goals, attack more often and get more creative players.

The Germany result, for example, did not surprise me. Consider the way they played in the WC last year. In the knockout phase of four games they scored a whopping three goals.

Ballack was and is their only really creative player and their attacking was incredibly weak. Compare them to Brazil who scored more than one goal in every game except for the semifinal. England couldn’t tie them when it was ten against eleven.

One good rule change was the disallowance of goalkeeper handling on foot passes back. As for the offside rule, time your runs better, improve your skills and the opportunities will come. The only exception to the offside rule I would make would be that if the defending player throws up their arm thinking that they are the referee instead of tracking back to defend, then the offsides rule is nullified no matter where the ball came from.

As for the Sol Campbell goal being disallowed, I did not see that one on the highlights, but if you look at this photo it appears that John Terry’s left arm is interfering with Ricardo’s ability to get the ball.


Ling 06.25.04 at 4:00 pm

Randy, there are two problems with the offside rule. 1) It restricts the offensive game and translates into fewer goals, and 2) it is nearly impossible to apply fairly. How can a single human being record the exact moment the ball is kicked by an attacker 20-30 yards behind him and note the position of the player he passing to at that precise instant? The move to give the benefit of the doubt to the attacking team was laudable in theory but seems to have had little effect in practice. A recent survey (sorry, no link) of TV replays showed that over half the offside calls were in fact dead wrong.


Randy Paul 06.25.04 at 4:12 pm

There are some attackers who frequently and usually correctly get called. I’m thinking particularly of Claudio Lopez. That’s clearly a skill problem.

What may be of some help is eliminating the offsides trap and make a rule that if more than one defender is moving forward then offsides is not to be called.


Ling 06.25.04 at 4:55 pm

The way to change the offside rule(s) is to make it easier to apply. Deciding whether more than one defender is springing an offside trap will only add to the rule’s complexity. The thing is to make it simpler and easier to enforce. That’s what a static offside would do, as in hockey. Once the ball entered a well-defined zone, say the 20-yard line (or the 18-yard line, which aready exists), there should be no offside at all.


cmd 06.25.04 at 5:27 pm

If more goals are desired, instead adapting ice hockey’s understanding of offsides, how about borrowing another idea from ice hockey: the penalty box? So instead of getting carded, the offender must sit out of the game for a prescribed period of time (which could vary with the seriousness of the offense), thereby forcing his team to play a man down during the penalty. That would surely have some effect on the goal rate. At any rate, it would add on to the drama that already exists.


Randy Paul 06.25.04 at 6:10 pm


Then you will have attackers packing the penalty area. Part of the appeal of the game at least to me is the skill and difficulty involved in scoring goals. I don’ really see much of a problem with the offside rule.


james 06.25.04 at 7:05 pm

Great game, better team on the night won, though losing Rooney was a hammer blow.

And that “you were playing twelve men out there weren’t you Sven” was totally ridiculous.


Ling 06.25.04 at 7:47 pm

Good idea Cmd. I was thinking along those lines as well. Being forced to play a man down for say 10-15 minutes might be appropriate punishment for a less-than-flagrant foul in the box or even a yellow-card foul elsewhere on the pitch. The point is to alleviate the all-or-nothing decision facing the referee when confronted with an iffy foul in the box. As it stands, penalty kicks (unlike penalty shots in hockey, where game scores are higher and the confrontation between penalty-shot taker and goalie is a much more equal affair than in football) are far too often the decisive events in low-scoring football matches these days.

As for packing the penalty area, Randy, there are numerous solutions to that problem, including the creation of a restricted area (the 6-yard box?) where attackers could only venture if defenders were already there, which is what happens during a corner kick. There are similar restrictions in hockey (the goalie’s “crease”) and in basketball (time-limited loitering in the “paint”).


Randy Paul 06.25.04 at 8:03 pm


I really think you’re making an apples and oranges comparison. If one thinks that high scoring is what’s most important in the game there’s always futsal, football on the beach and MISL. I really don’t think that the offsides real inhibts scoring; poor playing does.

As for the English team, it’s worth noting that the only players who play outside of the FA on the team are Hargreaves and Beckham and the latter only this past year. I think that is what one of the problems hampering the English National Team.

It’s worth noting also that the US Men’s National Team have regular players who play in the Bundesliga, the EPL, La Ligue and the Eredivisie and who have experience playing in Spain and Chile. I believe that the improvement in the US team is directly related to that.

Portugal has players playing in the EPL, Bundesliga, La Ligue, Serie A and I believe Eredivisie as well as do most of the other teams who have advanced beyond the opening round.


Thlayli 06.25.04 at 9:15 pm

As for the English team, it’s worth noting that the only players who play outside of the FA on the team are Hargreaves and Beckham and the latter only this past year. I think that is what one of the problems hampering the English National Team.

Italy has no players on foreign clubs, and Spain has only Morientes. Look how they did.


Randy Paul 06.25.04 at 9:18 pm

My point exactly.


Randy Paul 06.25.04 at 9:48 pm

All bets are off, although now I think that the smart money may be on Portugal or the Czechs as Greece has just beaten France 1-0.



Ling 06.25.04 at 10:19 pm


The foreign leagues business is a red herring. It only matters if players in a particular country are not good enough to play abroad. The top leagues are those of Spain, Italy, Germany and England, with those of France, Holland, Portugal, (maybe Turkey) in the second tier. List the top 100 European players and see where they play. They nearly all play in these leagues. Why should Spanish or Italian or German — or English! — players elsewhere? The best Swedish and Danish players play abroad simply because the top (read richest) teams are abroad, viz. the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. The best English players are already playing against many of the top European players… at home.

As for the lack of scoring, if you are satisfied with watching 0-0 draws or 1-0 matches decided on dubious penalty kicks, good for you. I’m not. These results cannot solely be attributed to poor tactics or unimaginative playing. It’s not that football has become less offensive (the talent is as great as ever, perhaps more so, and the players today are demonstrably more fit than their predecessors) but that teams have learned how to maximize their defensive tactics under the existing rules. They’ve become positively scientific about it. It’s the rules that must be changed (as FIFA itself has recognized). If average scores were higher, say 4-3 instead of 1-0, there were be more incentive for teams to attack instead of playing for a draw or protecting a 1-0 lead as England did for nearly their entire match with Portugal. They would know that 1-0 would be unlikely to stand up for 90 minutes and would press for more. And the game would become so much more interesting.


Randy Paul 06.25.04 at 10:47 pm


You’re misunderstanding me. The issue for me is that so many play in the same league. Look upon it as a form of hybrid vigor. Football styles in certain countries tend to be very similar in their respective leagues. It certainly seems to me that if one is assembling a teams accustomed to playing a variety of opponents from several different leagues that only strengthens your team, and if nothing else, players who play against star players twice a year can share information with their national team members who play in other leagues.

Protecting a 1-0 lead or playing to tie is a prescription for disaster. Consider what say Sweden tried to do against Brazil in the semifinals of the WC in 1994. They paid the price for it.

The scoreline doesn’t always convey the excitement of the game. It doesn’t indicate the quality of the saves, balls banging off the crossbar or uprights, near misses, last minute saving tackles, etc.


ling 06.26.04 at 12:08 am

Sorry, I don’t buy it, Randy. The top French players play (and have long played) in England. That didn’t prevent them from winning the World Cup or Euro 2000, did it? France won — and England didn’t — simply because France were better. Their styles were (and still are) similar. Many players from Denmark and Sweden have played in the Premier League. Are we to attribute their current success to that? Rather silly, I would think. And don’t forget that had the referee agreed with his linesman on Campbell’s goal or had Beckham not slipped while taking his kick in the shootout, we might now be rationalizing England’s success instead of its “failure”. Again, very silly.

It all comes down to this: when matches (and entire tournaments) are decided by a single goal generated (or disallowed) by the whim of a referee, arguing about grand trends in football is meaningless. If the team that ends atop the Premier League after an entire season of play is beaten 1-0 (because of a defensive miscue or a questionable penalty kick) by a clearly much weaker team from the First Division, can we read anything at all into the result beyond concluding that they were unluckly? As any scientist could tell you, the sample is just too small to have any meaning. Euro 2004 is fun to watch but the only way you will convince me that the best team won is when it has played say 15-20 matches and ended up on top, not when they can (conceivably) get through the preliminaries on three 0-0 draws and win their remaining three matches with single goals in each (or draw and then take them to shootouts). If the scores were 3-0, 5-2, 6-3 etc., then the fact that the European “champion” is decided every four years in just 6 matches would matter a lot less. The smaller the sample (games, goals, you decide) the smaller the victory.


fic 06.26.04 at 3:01 am

When a typical score is 1-0 or 2-1, the ref’s decision to award a penalty kick (or not), or to disallow a goal, assumes overwhelming importance. Add the size of the playing surface, the absence of TV replays and the likelihood that the (single) ref was out of position to make a proper call, and one is left with the conclusion that the outcome in many matches has little to do with the actual playing of the game.

Exactly. I do not understand why FIFA and UEFA opposes so strongly the motion that TV-replays could be used at making decisions of overwhelming importance (e.g. penalties, offsides, red cards). “Tradition” is not a valid argument: football has become much quicker over the years, the rules should adapt to the changed game.

I think an online activist group (some kind of “Fans for Football – Fans for TV-replay” thing) could easily gain public support, and in that case FIFA would no longer be able to ignore this option.


Randy Paul 06.26.04 at 4:46 am


Zidane and Trezeguet have also played in France and Italy and Spain (in Zidane’s case), Makelele in France, Spain and England, Lizarazu in France, Spain and Germany, Pires in France and England, Vieira has played in England, Italy and France, Thuram in France and Italy, Henry has played in Italy, England and France, Barthez in France and England, some of the recently retired or no longer on the team players Didier Deschamps played in Italy, Spain, France and England, Petit in England, Spain and France.

You’re still misunderstanding me. I enjoy English football as much as the next person, but the game as it’s played in England is not the same as it’s played in Spain, Germany or Italy. I’m not knocking the English game. I do think it would help England’s National team if more players played outside of England. My argument is bolstered by the French team diversity cited above. Yes, a number of them have played in England, but they have also played in other countries as well and I feel that has strengthened the French team.

As for England’s record in international competitions, given the love for the game there and the tradition it is surprisingly weak with the sole exception of the 1966 WC. They have never made it to the finals of the European Championship. That’s not a referee’s “whim.” That’s a fact.

BTW, we’re just exchanging opinions here. No need to refer to anyone’s as being silly. I finally saw the disallowed goal and it was correct to disallow it. John Terry was all over Ricardo in the six yard box. The call was correct, IMHO. FWIW I was pulling for England. I’m married to a Brazilian and they don’t pull for Portugal!


Eric Scharf 06.26.04 at 6:51 am

Soccer is not a sport for anyone who believes that justice is a human artifact, that talent, skill, preparation and teamwork should be and are frequently rewarded.

Soccer is best “enjoyed” when one is resigned to the overwhelming role played by such “impurities” as lousy refereeing, injuries, and fickle, fickle luck.

Soccer is pre-Rational, for those with no ambition to either understand or improve the world. Tinkering with the offside rule or admitting television review of officiating would be sheer vanity; only Americans would indulge such hubris.


Ling 06.26.04 at 11:23 am

Randy, if your point about national playing styles is meant to be accompanied by a few beers, I’ll gladly accomodate your arguments. In return, however, (between sips, of course) try considering that erecting grand theories on why England was a “failure” in Euro 2004 (as opposed to Germany, Spain, Italy, etc? I note that the French players you mention above have played almost exclusively in these countries; can we now call them the leagues of failure?) on the foundation of a disputed referee’s call is, well, a bit s….., uh, unscientific?


Randy Paul 06.26.04 at 6:40 pm


I actually referenced the Spanish and Italian leagues in response to thlayli’s comments above and agre that the Italian and Spanish national teams suffer from the same problem. Italian football is stultifying to me. No question my comments are completely unscientific, but the only English player I can think of who has had success playing outside of the UK in a major European league is Gary Lineker at Barcelona. Can you think of another?

My other point is that despite its strong football tradition, England’s national team with the sole exception of the 1966 WC, has been disappointing. I still believe that if more of their players had exposure to other styles, they would be more successful.


Ling 06.26.04 at 11:28 pm


How can anyone object to getting playing experience abroad? To deny its usefulness is like claiming one is better off never visiting other countries (for cultural reasons). But I really don’t think there’s much of an English “style” (for good or bad), rather, it varies from team to team according to who is managing/coaching. The manager imposes his style on the team much like a conductor does to his orchestra. I’ve watched a fair bit of French (league) football, some Spanish football and some German along with a lot of the English variety (I don’t live in England; I live in Canada now, but we get all this on the cable sports networks) and my preference is for the latter (with Spanish football a close second).

But none of this is pertinent to my argument above, namely that when scores are so low and a (knockout) match may be decided by a referee’s whim, it is pointless to be reading anything into such brief encounters (are we entitled now to claim that Greece is better than France?) beyond that luck (or a referee’s bias) favoured a particular team on a particular day. Euro 2004 is far too short a competition by which to measure a team’s — or a country’s — proficiency on the football pitch.

And, not least, (as FIFA itself has acknowledged the sport needs some serious reform.

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