Paying the penalty: Part 1 – The two Real penalties and the vomiting Frenchman

Pelé once famously said, ‘A penalty is a cowardly way to score.’ A strange sentiment for such a ruthless goalscorer, although his point does stand. 12 yards – it’s easy enough, right? If only.

This is the first in our three-part ‘Paying the Penalty’ series. We take a look at three moments involving penalties for England and recall the fascinating stories surrounding them. They’re not all misses and, don’t worry, the list doesn’t include Gareth Southgate, Stuart Pearce, Chris Waddle, David Batty or Paul Ince. During matches, England have been awarded 125 penalty-kicks, 91 were scored and 34 were saved or missed. It’s a paltry record, and one which doesn’t even include England’s horrendous performances in the dreaded shoot-outs. Let’s hope Eric Dier’s decisive spot-kick in 2018 paves the way for something of a national renaissance. Some penalties were more memorable than others, and here are three examples which, for different reasons, proved to be unexpectedly defining moments in the careers of those involved.


The two Real penalties and the vomiting Frenchman
Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham
France 2-1 England – Estadio Da Luz, 13 June 2004

This match featured two crucial penalties taken by Real Madrid team-mates. One was missed, the other converted. I look back at the 2004 European Championships with huge affection. Many cite World Cup 2006 as the main opportunity for silverware for the ‘golden generation’, but our failure in 2004 sticks in the throat more. It felt like our genuine chance. Alas, in international football, all roads lead to self-deception.

The starting line-up in the opening match against France reads: David James, Gary Neville, Ledley King, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen. Our bench even included John Terry and Joe Cole. How could hope not have been high leading into the tournament?

Despite the strength of the squad, expectation was luke-warm leading into the tournament; the 18-month ban of Rio Ferdinand had dominated the headlines. The oft-discussed strategy of how best to accommodate both Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in central midfield had become a mainstay in pub discussion, yesteryear’s equivalent of the inane ‘Ronaldo vs Messi’ debate. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s approach was to shift Scholes out to the left for the Euros, much to the dismay of the fans. And so it goes.

At the Euros eight years prior, in 1996, each match was a home game. It felt like the tectonic plates had shifted, the importance was greater than football – a cultural movement. Euro ’96 coincided with the ‘lad’ 90s of Skinner and Baddiel, Brit Pop and a merry post-Thatcher glee of the working classes. We very nearly won the thing in our home territory but, as in 2004, penalties yet again p*ssed on the parade.

David Baddiel once said the reason that ‘Three Lions’ resonated with the public was that it echoed exactly what it means to be an England fan: “It’s not that we think we’re going to win, or that we’re going to lose either. It’s somewhere in between – it’s hope versus experience.”  Our experience obviously shows us horrors so grave we dare not speak its name. Handballs and tears and sh*tting on the pitch and mullets and metatarsals and winkers and, of course, the Germans, on penalties. Similar to how the will of the boxer is the final thing to go, so too is the hope of the England fan.

England’s performance in the early stages in Portugal were some of the most impressive tournament football we have ever played in my lifetime. An 18-year-old, free-wheeling Wayne Rooney blitzed through elite defenders with ease, just a few weeks before his career-defining move to Manchester United. “I was just happy to be on the same pitch as Zinedine Zidane”, Rooney said a few years later.

With Rooney leading the charge, England made a positive start at the Estadio Da Luz against France. It was so warming to see England play with the shackles off, this was the first in a series of explosive performances that put Rooney firmly on the track towards international stardom. In that game, Rooney became the second youngest player to play in a European Championship finals match, the record holder being the Belgian Enzo Scifo exactly 20 years before.

It was Rooney who won the penalty against France. Lampard headed the opener in the first half, a goal which he later claimed as his favourite ever England goal and one which put an end to France’s clean sheet streak of 11 matches. Beckham was outfoxed by former team-mate Fabien Barthez from the spot, the Frenchman correctly diving to his right.

With 90 minutes on the clock, Zidane made a mockery of English hesitancy, converting a free-kick from the edge of the box. David James, England’s perennial weak link, told the BBC in 2012, “We did a lot of preparatory work before the game, and video analysis. Zidane didn’t feature in any of it. He hadn’t taken a free-kick for over two years, so he wasn’t considered a threat.” Truly astonishing.

A mix up between Steven Gerrard and James led to Thierry Henry being fouled in the box, allowing Zidane to snatch the game from the penalty spot. Seconds before successfully converting the spot-kick, the Frenchman vomited on the ground twice in quick succession. Having seemingly offloaded the nerves, he dispatched the penalty with ease to make it 2-1, coolly sending James the wrong way.

We threw the game away in injury time having lead 1-0 with 90 minutes on the clock. John Motson recently said, “England could have won the game and, after all these years, I still can’t figure out how or why we lost it.”

In the post-match press conference that night, Zidane said, in characteristically modest fashion, ‘We can thank Fabien for making the difference.’ What a man.

Before his penalty miss against France, Beckham had missed his previous one for England against Turkey, and would also gone on to miss the next against Portugal in the quarter-final stage shoot-out later in the tournament. It felt like a far cry from his personal redemption from the spot against Argentina only two years before at World Cup 2002. And so continued the penalty hoodoo for the English national team.


Tomorrow… ‘Paying the Penalty’ series: Part 2 – Spiritual guidance and the ‘Sliding Doors’ penalty. England vs Argentina World Cup 1998…


By |2020-05-30T10:33:35+00:00May 30th, 2020|

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