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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 July 2006, 21:28 GMT 22:28 UK
Party over for England fans
By Claire Heald
BBC News, Gelsenkirchen

An England fan in Gelsenkirchen
An England fan reacts after the penalty shoot-out
England's World Cup party is over. It all came down to penalties in the quarter-final against Portugal, and now they are going home.

They played Que Sera Sera in the stadium before England stepped up to take their penalties. Perhaps it was meant to be ironic.

After all the hype, heat, song and support, England's fate was to go out in a re-run of their exit at the European Championships in Portugal in 2004.

If only the team's success had matched the passion of their supporters.

Gelsenkirchen stadium was a sea of red and white for the quarter-finals, with only one small corner of Portuguese colour.

Stadium suspense

From pitch-side to the back row, fans had their flags flying. With the lid on the roof, it was a steaming cauldron of tense sweat which built until you could see and smell it hanging in the air.

Throughout the game, at full-time, after extra-time, the fans were in full song. But it was not enough to reach those on the pitch.

Fan in inflatable football suit
Deflated: England's World Cup goal
After the exit of their star striker, and with the captain's foot on ice, England fans felt their chance of a semi-final place was frozen.

Ahead of the match their talk had been that England would raise their game and go through against Portugal.

After two hot hours, when penalties came, the end result was no surprise. England had not gone through in a penalty shoot-out since beating Spain in Euro '96.

Players praised

But as fans spilled out of the stadium, they were full of praise for the England players.

Phil Stonehewer from High Wycombe praised Owen Hargreaves, who plays for Bayern Munich, but added: "It comes to something when the only player in the England team who can score a penalty is kind-of a German."

Up to 70,000 fans were expected in Germany for the match. More than 30,000 at the stadium and an equal number in Gelsengkirchen and its surrounding cities.

Phil Stonehewer
Phil Stonehewer: Penalty pity

Thousands flooded in this weekend to get a taste of a World Cup that was so near it was easy to touch.

Now they will return home and St George, seen leaving the stadium in his costume, is among them.

He was not available for comment.

The England band had kept hopes high during the match with endless renditions of God Save the Queen and the Great Escape.

Desperate disappointment

Outside, they had "All gone quiet over there".

"We are gutted, absolutely devastated," said John Hemmingham.

"We are gutted that Rooney didn't keep his head. If we had played more attacking football we could have beaten them. And the referee should never have made Carragher take that penalty twice."

In times of despair like this, it is good to find a tale to warm the heart.

Jo Rolland is here with her new husband, Stuart. He is a "sweetie, a Scotsman, and a unique one. He supports England".

Jo and Stuart Rolland
Together in tears: Jo and Stuart Rolland
She feels the Portuguese cheated. She says: "I don't feel the best team won. They cheated, it's a shame that teams like Portugal and Italy win by diving."

Stuart was there to dry her tears at the end. He says: "When I saw her cry I almost cried too."

At the end of the match, England fans did not leave - stuck in their seats and in the first stage of loss: disbelief.

And on the pitch, Hargreaves, the butt of criticism until now, sat with his head in his hands.

Fifa's man-of-the-match will have no further chance to prove himself in this tournament. He got up to join the rest of the team as they saluted the largest travelling support in football.

Despite their loss, those fans were still able to look forward.

"Ah well, there is always next time," said Gavin Clarkson, a Man City supporter. Asked if that was not a bit like saying "it's only a game", he admitted: "You have to be like that about it, otherwise it would be far too depressing."

He was off to watch the Brazil v France match.

After all, it may be over for England, but the "time to make friends" party continues without its most enthusiastic guests.






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