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Last Updated: Friday, 25 June, 2004, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Why does it always end like this?

By Paul Fletcher
Our man in Portugal

Two dejected England fans after the defeat to Portugal

The out-pouring of jubilation in Portugal on Thursday night was in stark contrast to the scenes of bitter disappointment in England.

And as a nation woke up on Friday nursing sore heads, England fans once again had to reconcile themselves with another glorious failure.

But one of the more bitter elements of the Euro 2004 exit was the sheer inevitability of the way it happened.

Supporters were made to suffer another horrendous night of nerve-shredding twists and turns, which produced millions of emotional wrecks after two-and-a-half hours of torment.

After so many previous hard-luck stories, it did not seem credible that England could lose this way again.

Sadly, fate had decreed otherwise.

England, it seems, are never to be eliminated by a scoreline that at least allows their supporters the cold comfort of being able to say their team was simply second best.

Instead, the fate of England fans is to be left wondering why, after their side once again failed by the narrowest of margins.

The defeat to Portugal contained many of the classic ingredients, not least of which came at the very end.

England and penalty shoot-outs just don't mix.

Terry Venables' team may have beaten Spain in their Euro 96 quarter-final by that method.

But in their next match, the Germans ensured that football would not be coming home after the tie went to penalties.

England's fall guy that day was Gareth Southgate, but he is by no means alone.

At the 1990 World Cup Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed their spot kicks after another semi-final with Germany remained undecided.

I am England captain and I will not be resigning unless the manager wants me to
David Beckham

Eight years later it was Argentina's turn to heap misery on England, David Batty denied by Carlos Roa.

On Thursday David Beckham and Darius Vassell joined the lengthening list of failure from 12 yards.

Then there is the issue of the goal that never was.

The France 98 clash with Argentina might have been settled without the need for penalties if referee Kim Milton Nielsen had not disallowed Sol Campbell's header.

On Thursday it was Urs Meier who left England fans shattered with a blow of the whistle which to fans looked inexplicable.

His decision to rule out Campbell's last-minute header for a push that only he seemed to see makes the bitter pill of defeat even harder to swallow.

Yet late drama takes many forms for England supporters.

Four years ago, in Belgium, England were on the verge of qualification from their group until Phil Neville conceded a penalty with just two minutes remaining.

Ioan Ganea duly converted and England were again on their way home from Euro 2000.

And then there is the ill luck that besets our best players at exactly the wrong time.

Paul Gascoigne's tears after his booking in 1990, David Beckham's dismissal against Argentina - and now the injury to Wayne Rooney.

The 18-year-old had illuminated the tournament with his breathtaking displays and four goals, but limped out injured after 27 minutes.

Had he lasted who knows what the result would have been.

It all makes for a familiar script of near misses, wasted opportunities and desperate disappointments.

The emotional well-being of England fans might be better served if they simply forgot all about football and took up tiddlywinks instead.

But supporting England is like a drug that cannot be given up - and the fans must once again deal with the painful side effects.





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