Same old story for England
"Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win." Perhaps it is time that Gary Lineker, England's greatest FIFA World Cup goal-scorer, reworded that famous observation of his.
After all, as every England fan knows, it is 120 minutes of chasing a ball and at the end England lose on penalties. The fate which befell Sven-Goran Eriksson's side in Gelsenkirchen last weekend was only too familiar and even prompted German newspaper Bild to publish a mischievous step-by-step guide in English to taking spot-kicks.
England have now lost six of the seven shoot-outs in which they have been involved, their failings from the penalty spot responsible for their exits from six major tournaments over the last 16 years.
Penalties were not the only cause for déjà vu after England's FIFA World Cup quarter-final defeat by Portugal , however. Once again England had gone down with the type of brave, backs-to-the-wall performance that English teams do so well. As against Argentina at France 98, England lost a player to a red card for David Beckham in Saint-Etienne, read Wayne Rooney in Gelsenkirchen - and just like then, their spirited display was undone by a penalty shoot-out.
The difference this time, however, was that England went into this FIFA World Cup genuinely confident of lifting the Trophy. The comments coming out of the camp suggested self-belief was not going to be a problem for this England team and even on the eve of the Portugal match, Eriksson was telling journalists: "I am extremely confident that this team we have can go all the way."
In addition, England were considered by many to have their most talented squad of players since 1970. Yet the truth is that despite the star names, and despite the five and a half years with a Swedish coach, the England fans who journeyed to Germany in their tens of thousands simply ended up watching another typically English defeat.
Eriksson looked a beaten man as tears welled in his eyes during the post-match interviews in Gelsenkirchen. "We were not good enough this time, especially the penalties," he admitted. "Quarter-finals four years ago was OK, two years ago was OK, but this time we should at least be in the semi. We are not. We are here again."
"Here again" was a third quarter-final loss to follow defeats by Brazil in 2002 and Portugal in 2004. The most disappointing aspect for England followers was their team had a favourable draw yet still failed to improve on recent tournaments.
Gary Neville admitted England had "cruised through to the quarter-final without even having to perform" and the truth is that save for their first-half showing in the 2-2 draw with Sweden when Joe Cole struck their goal of the tournament - they did little to excite their huge travelling support. Certainly none of the wins over Paraguay ( 1-0 ), Trinidad and Tobago ( 2-0 ) and Ecuador ( 1-0 ) were too easy on the eye.
While England defended well, the finger of blame has pointed at Eriksson for his choice of strikers. Of the four forwards he took to Germany, two had serious doubts over their fitness (Rooney and Michael Owen), another was largely unproven at international level (Peter Crouch) and the fourth had not even made a top-flight appearance for his club (Theo Walcott).
With the 17-year-old Walcott not considered ready for action, Eriksson had only three strikers, and that number shrank to two when Owen broke down against Sweden in the third group match. Although Crouch acquitted himself well, it was Eriksson's squad selection that led him to fielding Rooney as a lone striker against the Portuguese.
The 20-year-old operates best as a support striker, running at defences, rather then holding the ball up with his back to goal, and his frustration eventually spilled over. After all the worries over whether his foot would stand the strain, it was his temperament that failed him.
In his farewell press conference, Eriksson told the assembled English press not to blame Rooney for England's elimination, saying: "Don't kill him because you will need him." Rooney will undoubtedly come back English optimists will note that Diego Maradona, at 21, also ended his first FIFA World Cup adventure with the shame of a red card but the future is less certain for others.
David Beckham has relinquished the captain's armband and his performances in Germany save his breathtaking free-kick against Ecuador have begged the question whether he will remain an automatic starter under Eriksson's successor, Steve McClaren. Another dilemma for the new manager is to decide how best to harness the talents of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
Both men are vital goalscoring midfielders for their clubs but making an impact for England has proved more complicated and McClaren must ask whether it is possible to employ both of them successfully in the same midfield. Gerrard scored twice here but Lampard had a disappointing campaign summed up by his missed penalty against Portugal.
If Lampard failed to deliver, another midfielder, Owen Hargreaves, silenced the many critics who had questioned why Eriksson kept selecting him. The Bayern Munich player performed impressively in the holding role and his tireless display against Portugal had the England fans singing his name.
Reasons for optimism
Hargreaves is not the only one giving McClaren cause for optimism as he prepares for his first assignment as England manager in the 16 August friendly against Greece. England's defence performed admirably in Germany, conceding just two goals in five matches, with Rio Ferdinand particularly impressive.
In midfield, the lively contribution 19-year-old Aaron Lennon made after replacing Beckham against Portugal was encouraging. While Walcott will probably drop down to the U-21s, Lennon appears likely to provide Beckham with serious competition for a starting place.
McClaren can also take heart from the fact that besides Beckham and Gary Neville, the nucleus of the current team will still be in their prime in four years' time in South Africa. Rooney, in particular, will be just 24 and hopefully wiser for his experience this time round.