Portugal 2-2 England at Euro 2004: the controversy and the curse that eliminated the Three Lions

Portugal 2-2 England at Euro 2004: the controversy and the curse that eliminated the Three Lions

This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE

In a sport that all too rarely rewards goalkeepers with the same headlines it so lavishes upon goalscorers, penalty shootouts go some of the way to righting that wrong, allowing custodians an increased chance, if not quite a guarantee, of assuming centre stage.

Not often do goalkeepers stake their claim in penalty shootouts by doing the business with both their hands and their feet, yet it was in precisely this manner that Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo answered his nation’s clarion call and decided the fate of this quite phenomenal quarter-final.

England had reached the Euro 2004 quarter-finals with relative ease, despite an early bump in the road to Lisbon. Frank Lampard’s first goal of the tournament looked, for some time, to have given England an opening victory over France, but a brace of stoppage time set-pieces from Zinedine Zidane – one free-kick, one penalty – turned the tie the way of the French.

England responded by thumping Switzerland 3-0 before beating Croatia, comfortably, 4-2. With four goals in three games, the rambunctious Wayne Rooney appeared eager to lead England all the way.

Portugal, similarly, had slipped up in their first fixture, succumbing to a 2-1 defeat to underdogs Greece. Goals at either end of their next game had given them a simple 2-0 win over Russia, though, before a solitary Nuno Gomes strike carried them beyond Spain and into the knockout round. The hosts hadn’t yet lit up the tournament by any means, but they were very much still in it and retained hopes that their best football was ahead of them.

It was England who drew first blood. The game wasn’t yet four minutes old when David James’ enormous up-field punt sailed long into the Portuguese half. Misreading the flight of the ball, Costinha’s attempted header only served to flick it into the path of Michael Owen, who’d gambled on his ‘keeper’s kick surpassing even the last line of the Portugal defence.

Turning cutely, with his back momentarily to goal, Owen span and flicked the ball with a single touch of the outside of his right boot, sweeping it past Ricardo to give the Three Lions an early lead. 

With the deadlock broken, and all caution seemingly abandoned, the two sides began trading attacks. Owen went close again for England after Sol Campbell headed over from a corner. Maniche let fly from distance and had James scrambling across his goal, but to little avail. Somehow, the score remained just 1-0 come half-time.

In the second half, roared on by the partisan home crowd, Portugal huffed and they puffed until, eventually, an 83rd-minute header from Helder Postiga blew the England house down. England captain David Beckham had done well to block Simão’s first cross, but the Portuguese winger’s second bite at the cherry evaded Beckham and Gary Neville, and made statues of centre-back pairing John Terry and Campbell, as Portugal’s number 23 popped up between them and obligingly brought his compatriots level.

As extra-time beckoned, Campbell thought he’d won it for the visitors. In the 89th minute, Owen flicked an inswinging Beckham cross onto the bar and it was the airborne England defender who was first to the rebound, nodding the loose ball into the open goal. But as he wheeled away in delight, just as he had six years earlier – denied at the 1998 World Cup the goal that, on the night, would’ve put his country 3-2 up in a game they’d ultimately lose to Argentina – his moment of glory was snatched from him.

Swiss referee Urs Meier maintained a foul had been committed somewhere amidst the maelstrom of bodies swarming around the six-yard box. England struggled to see where.

Onto another half an hour’s action the two teams marched, as the game entered extra-time. It was then, ten minutes from time, Rui Costa appeared to have won it for Portugal. Receiving the ball on the half-way line, onwards he ran, onwards, onwards, until reaching the England box. Shrugging off Phil Neville, left in a heap on the ground, Rui Costa drew short his diagonal run, cut inside onto his right foot and unleashed a snarling shot that thrashed its way through to James’ net, grazing the crossbar on its way in.

England, though, weren’t to be dismissed that easily. With just five minutes to go, another Beckham corner orchestrated another England chance. It floated into the area, where it found the head of Terry. His header landed at the feet of Lampard, who exquisitely cushioned the ball with his left foot before spinning and firing it in with his right. This game was clearly destined for penalties and destiny obliged.

Beckham volunteered to go first for England, determined to get his beloved nation off on the right foot. Yet it was his right foot that sent the ball soaring up and into the stands. The shot sent with it a tuft of turf, and Beckham pointed to the scuffed penalty spot in disappointment – but it meant little; little beyond Portugal’s early advantage.

The next two penalties were dispatched; Simão for Portugal, Owen for England. Then Rui Costa blazed his over, similarly looking back accusingly at the penalty spot, and when Lampard turned his past Ricardo the scores were level. After Cristiano Ronaldo, Maniche and Postiga notched for Portugal, and Terry, Owen Hargreaves and Ashley Cole responded for England, the tension grew, the pressure weighed heavier with each kick, and sudden death stood poised to make a hero of one and a failure of another.

As Darius Vassell approached the penalty spot, ready to take his, Ricardo curiously abandoned his gloves, tearing them off and throwing them to the side of the goal. If he was to save this shot, he’d do so with his bare hands. And he did. Sprawling to his left, the England number 23 could only watch on in horror at the Portuguese stopper parried his low shot to safety.

Not content with merely saving shots, Ricardo then elected to take one, the next and potentially final penalty of the game. Sizing up his opposite number, Ricardo waited for the whistle, sprinted toward the ball, and blasted it hard and low with his right foot, as it scorched a path across the field, straight past James’ dive and into the England goal.

As England cursed another penalty shootout, and mourned their empty-handed exit from another major tournament, Portugal’s fairytale story opened its pages for at least one more chapter, buoyed by the belief that this time, on home soil, this could be their year.

By Will Sharp @shillwarp

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