By Phil McNulty
Our man with England
David Beckham pointed an accusing finger at a mud-pack penalty spot when he skied his crucial kick into the stands at the Stadium of Light as England crashed out of Euro 2004.
Sadly, for England's captain and national icon, getting his excuses in first may not be enough to stop him being on the end of some serious accusations at the end of a tournament he must view as a massive personal disappointment.
Beckham's missed spot-kick, his third in succession for England, put them under instant pressure as they lost the quarter-final 6-5 on penalties to host Portugal.
And as he retreated disconsolately to receive the support of his England colleagues in the centre circle, Beckham could not escape the simple fact that it was a moment that summed up his tournament.
Of all the big players expected to deliver for England in Portugal, Beckham was the one who singularly failed to step forward.
Beckham was involved with some of his trademark set-pieces, but a player of his profile and reputation needed to offer England so much more than he did here.
Should David Beckham keep the England captaincy?
He put down his personal marker for Euro 2004 by missing the crucial penalty against France as England led 1-0 - it was a pivotal moment in the match and Beckham's tournament never really recovered.
Too often, England's captain looked a jaded lightweight, often taking time to recover from the physical challenges of opponents.
Too often he was a peripheral figure lurking on the flank instead of influencing the play.
Too often Beckham's trademark dead ball skills, and his passing, were off the mark.
If this was the major tournament Beckham intended to make his mark on, then he had better prepare to try again in Germany in 2006.
It is all a far cry from the free-kick against Greece that sent England to the 2002 World Cup, or the captain who took the penalty that beat Argentina in Sapporo.
BECKHAM'S PENALTY MISSES
October 2003: Turkey 0-0 England - He slips as he shoots and the ball flies over the bar
June 2004: England 1-2 France - This time his spot-kick is saved by Barthez after Rooney is felled
June 2004: Portugal 2-2 England (Portugal win on penalties) - The shoot-out gets off to a disastrous start as he balloons it over the bar when the penalty spot appears to give way
Beckham, for the most part of Euro 2004, has looked ordinary - the global superstar turned Mr Average.
Indeed, it is some time since Beckham delivered for England, and for all the soothing words of his manager and team-mates, he cannot expect to escape the harsh verdict on his performances in Portugal.
And, whisper it, there were even suggestions by some that it is time to remove the treasured captain's armband and pass it on.
In Beckham's defence he is a fine ambassador for England, and he made a point of making sure he moved towards Darius Vassell to throw a consoling arm around the devastated Aston Villa striker after he missed the crucial penalty.
But Gary Neville has appeared far more of a natural leader, while Steven Gerrard must also come into the reckoning soon.
Beckham cannot keep the armband on past
Beckham has had a difficult last few months, with allegations surrounding his private life sure to have taken their toll, as they would on anyone.
But he insisted after arriving in Lisbon that football is his escape from such pressures, so this cannot be used as an excuse.
Beckham faces the task of picking himself up and raising his game
And even though he suffered an ankle injury in a mixed season in Madrid, he only played 41 games for the Bernabeu outfit last season so it is difficult to make a case for Beckham being a jaded figure worn out by the pressures of constant football.
No - the brutal truth is that Beckham almost looked like the pace of some games was too much for him.
And his status as the national footballing hero has been stripped away by Everton's Wayne Rooney.
Beckham must now go back to Madrid, regroup and start to get focused on football again so that he can start showing the class that made him such a respected figure so recently.
The backlash, the whispers, against Beckham have already started, and he can mount little argument as he retreated in despair from Lisbon.
For David Beckham - and perhaps even Sven-Goran Eriksson - some crucial decisions lie ahead.
Becks must do better than this. And he must do it quickly.