Belfast Telegraph

'The penalty decision cost us. We would have won'

By Glenn Moore

Steve McClaren branded Luis Medina Cantalejo's penalty decision "a disgrace" last night and insisted that England "absolutely" would have won had it not been for the official's error. "We were under pressure but defending magnificently, they did not get a clear shot on goal," he said.

The England coach said the players were "devastated" and refused to pin the blame on any of them, though he did admit England experienced " five minutes of madness" after the penalty in which concentration was lost and the wrong decisions were taken.

"We were in control. We had weathered the early storm and never looked in any danger," he said. "But decisions turn games and the penalty decision has cost us. It was outside the box, not seen by the linesman and given by the referee in a bad position. We went from a winning position to losing the game. We would have won, absolutely, if it had not been for that decision.

"I can't fault the players, their attitude, endeavour, what they did in the game. They are devastated. No one likes losing games, not like that, not when it was in our hands. Five minutes of madness have cost us. We could still have held out and got a draw. We lost concentration and decisions cost us, but I'm not blaming anybody."

McClaren also refused to blame the plastic pitch though he noted: "It was lively and they had more preparation but it's not an excuse. It was nothing to do with the pitch."

Steven Gerrard, captain in the absence of John Terry, said: "A European Championships without England is unthinkable, but as players we have to take responsibility. We had the game exactly where we wanted it. They were running out of ideas – then came the penalty, and we had a mad, crazy five minutes." Indicating that he felt Paul Robinson was at fault for Russia's winner he added: "Paul will feel disappointed with the second goal."

Of the opportunity to put England two-up which he described as "glorious ", Gerrard said: "I should have scored. It was one of those chances where the ball seemed to take an eternity to come down."

McClaren added: "It is out of our hands now, but Russia have to win in Israel, the pressure is on them to win that. It's a tough place to go. They've still got a lot of work to do."

To Guus Hiddink, Russia's victory was simply a matter of time as his team were "dominating". He said: "I am very proud of the players. We are a young team without huge experience. We had a blow when the one chance we gave away was a goal but for the rest of the half I thought we were dominating.

"At half-time we told them when you get the equaliser you will get the second, they will not cope with the pressure."

Hiddink picked out the tendency for Joleon Lescott to come inside and make a third central defender leaving Joe Cole as an ersatz left-back, and said he targeted it in the second half. "We could expect to harm them on that side, they were vulnerable," he said. He added: "We have to concentrate on our own jobs, against Israel, which is difficult, and Andorra. "

Hiddink, who has been linked with Chelsea, added he had not yet formally signed his new contract with Russia, but had "given my word". He added: "There are details to be done but I have said yes and I will stay." This morning he could probably name his price.

In or out? England made to pay for Rooney's foul

England's passage to Euro 2008 looked assured until Russia were awarded a penalty in the 69th minute following a controversial incident when Wayne Rooney appeared to tackle Konstantin Zyryanov outside the area, although the Russian fell into the box. The referee, however, pointed to the spot.

If England go out What else to do next summer

Can't bear to watch Europe's leading football nations compete for the Henri Delaunay trophy next summer? But still need your fix of sport? Here's some ideas to fill that void:

Cricket: England v New Zealand, Trent Bridge, 5-9 June - Can't imagine the Russians dealing with Steve Harmison, can you? Providing he sends it vaguely in the right direction. As for New Zealand, don't forget they're not too hot at rugby either. Unlike England

Golf: US Open, 12-15 June - Where better to be than California? The Americans won't pay a blind bit of notice to Euro 2008. Good on them, and come on Justin

Equestrianism: Hickstead Derby, 26-29 June Horses – don't you love 'em

Tennis: Wimbledon, 23 June - 6 July - Come on Andy. That's Britain's Andy Murray (or Scotland's when he goes out in round one to a Belarusian qualifier)

Hay-on-Wye literary festival May/June - Browse through the bookshops and thank your literary stars that at least no England at Euro 2008 means we'll be spared a rash of self-serving 'autobiographies' from Frank, Stevie G, Colleen and Co. Joey Barton will be relieved

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