LISBON: The height that David Beckham's extraordinary penalty reached as it disappeared into the Luz Stadium stands on Thursday mirrored the depths the England captain has plumbed in a season he will want to forget.
Beckham was the first man into action in the penalty shoot-out after Portugal and England had drawn 2-2 after extra time in a tense quarter-final.
But as he made contact he seemed to take a huge divot and the ball ballooned high and wide of Ricardo's goal.
As the Portuguese crowd roared, Beckham turned and pointed accusingly at the spot, almost pleading with Swiss referee Urs Meier to allow him another go.
He did not, of course, and all the subsequent penalty takers took exaggerated care to pat down the cut-up turf on the all-important dab of whitewash 12 yards out.
England got back on level terms when Rui Costa sent his penalty high over the bar, also taking a moment to glare at the spot as he trudged back.
But after Ricardo saved from Darius Vassell the goalkeeper became the double hero by striking the winner.
England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson said that he had complained twice about the state of the penalty spot after training in the stadium but that will be little consolation to his captain.
“Beckham, I think he slipped with his foot once again, unfortunately,” said the Swede.
England fans had seen it all before but would not have believed they would see it again from a man with one of the deadliest right feet ever to wear his country's colours.
Beckham said the area around the penalty spot had given way under this foot, causing him to sky the first penalty in the shoot-out against Portugal into the stands.
“The night before the match, we practised penalties at both ends. Our feet were giving way under us and I think the manager made an official complaint. I don't know whether anything was done about it,” he siad.
“The same thing happened on the first penalty. When I planted my foot, the ball lifted.”
Last October, with England needing a draw with Turkey in Istanbul to secure their Euro 2004 berth, Beckham blazed a penalty wildly over the bar in the 37th minute.
On that occasion he slipped on contact and was virtually horizontal when he struck the ball.
England held out for the goalless draw they needed and the miss was glossed over. It even became something of a joke as the attempt was compared with the goal kicking of England's Jonny Wilkinson during the Rugby World Cup – the two men having worked together in TV adverts trying out each others' sports.
Up until then Beckham had been enjoying a bright start in his first season at Real Madrid but his form gradually dipped, along with most of his teammates, as the Spanish side slumped to a trophy-less season.
Off the field things were not going well either, as accusations about marital infidelities began to stain his previously spotless family man image and seemed to have a deep effect on his confidence on the pitch.
He arrived at Euro 2004 struggling to adapt to a return to right midfield, after a season in the centre with Real.
But he had a chance to cement his position as the golden boy of the team when he lined up a penalty against France that would have given England a 2-0 lead midway through the second half of their opening group game.
However, France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, his former Manchester United teammate, guessed right, saved the penalty and two late goals from Zinedine Zidane earned France a 2-1 win.
Thursday's miss capped a poor tournament for Beckham, who lacked fizz and seemed shackled by his position wide on the right.
His dead ball work was disappointing and he was never able to impose his will on any of England's games.
He has been down before, of course, becoming public enemy number one when he was sent off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup before bouncing back with the goal that secured a place in the 2002 edition.
But not many players get two shots at redemption, and with the 2006 World Cup coming when he will be 31, Beckham could be destined to be remembered for the wrong reasons. – Reuters