It's Over

And didn't we all know it would be when it went to penalties. I've seen them all, and what a tale of woe the history of England penalty shoot-outs is. In fact, I can't remember them ever winning one.

But that is, as they say, by the by. England finally put together a giant performance today, their best performance since we beat Argentina--if you discount the 60-odd minutes before Wayne Rooney stamped on the nuts of one of the Portugal players and then, weirdly, appeared to be sent off for shoving his Manchester United teammate (there'll be trouble there next season) Ronaldo. Up to that point England played the exasperatingly dull game that has characterised their uneasy transit through the competition--with the 4-5-1 formation the gnomish manager Ericsson adopted they could hardly do otherwise.

Rooney's departure--and the substitution of David Beckham just before, who like Owen injured himself by attempting the imponderably difficult task of standing on his own legs (only in England, eh?)--galvanised the team into a death-or-glory performance such as we have all known they had inside them, but had given up hope of seeing. Finally, as the sentimental but rather wonderful old footballing cliche goes, they were ready to die for their shirts. And perhaps I'm being overly English by saying this, but taking that into consideration, I couldn't care less that it all went breasts up in the penalty shoot-out, and now they will be flying home. All I ever wanted was something to be proud of.

It's been a hell of a ride, guys. Now let's get ready for the Euros in 2008.