“IT’S not easy taking a penalty when you’re one goal behind the record,” said Gary Lineker, ruefully, in the BBC’s Cape Town studio. If you’re being cruel, as Alan Hansen sometimes is, you might respond by saying that at least Jon Dahl Tomasson’s penalty was successful. Eventually.
Wembley: May 1992. England face Brazil in a friendly, shortly before the European Championships. In the first half, England win a penalty. Step forward Lineker, less than a month before his international retirement, and needing one goal to equal Bobby Charlton’s England record of 49 goals.
What follows is as bad a penalty as any seen at Wembley. Lineker attempts to chip the keeper, scuffs it, and the ball drifts tamely into his hands. The striker never scores for England again, although he does bounce back to become Britain’s leading crisp salesman, and earns a regular stint on the BBC’s comedy sports show They Think It’s All Over, where he proves to be more amusing than Rory McGrath.
(He fails, however, to be anywhere near as funny as Alastair Campbell, who brings the house down during his single appearance on the show by suggesting, with a straight face, that George W Bush is an intelligent man.)
Rustenburg, June 2010. Denmark face Japan in a World Cup Group E decider, needing a win to make the last 16. They play like a team of strangers, allowing Japan’s Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo to score two first-half free kicks. In the second half, Denmark keeper Thomas Sorensen almost fumbles another into his own net.
Then, with nine minutes to go, Denmark get a soft penalty and Tomasson steps up with the chance to equal Poul Nielsen’s record of 52 goals for his country. He’s something of a national legend, Tomasson, which often comes as a surprise to those who saw him flounder during a season at Newcastle in the late 1990s. Then again, he was often used as a target man at St James’ Park because Alan Shearer was injured. And with the best will in the world, Tomasson has never been a target man.
The late penalty is a big moment for Tomasson, who hasn’t scored for Denmark in two years.
What follows is as bad a penalty as any seen at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium. Tomasson’s weak kick is saved by Eiji Kawashima. And even though the follow up falls to the striker five yards from an open goal, he nearly cocks it up, almost missing the ball as he scuffs a shot just inside the post, pulling his thigh muscle in the process.
It makes next to no difference whatsoever, as Honda gets through the Denmark defence to set up Shinji Okazaki for a stylish Japanese third goal three minutes from the end. Coach Takeshi Okada, who stated – then denied – that he had offered to resign during the build-up to the tournament, takes his team through to the last 16 – the first time Japan have gone that far in a World Cup outside their own country.
Tomasson’s record-equalling moment apart, Denmark will have little to remember this World Cup by, thanks to some inept defending during their three games. They’ve had about as much fun in South Africa as Gary Lineker had at Euro 92. Now that’s a tournament Denmark will always remember fondly.