Darius Vassell on England's golden generation and his penalty miss at Euro 2004
Hosts Portugal ended England's bid for glory 16 years ago when Ricardo saved from Vassell in a shootout - but the striker still has fond memories of the tournament
By Charlie Skinner
Last Updated: 22/06/20 6:06pm
"It was the best team that I'd ever seen or been a part of myself. We were supposed to win that and we knew it."
At Euro 2004, England's 'golden generation' were building a reputation across Europe.
An 18-year-old Wayne Rooney had burst onto the international scene up front with Michael Owen. David Beckham was the leader, alongside world-class midfielders in Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes.
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Two late goals from Zinedine Zidane handed England a 2-1 defeat to France in the opening group game. However, this was followed up with emphatic wins against Switzerland and Croatia to set up a quarter-final tie with hosts Portugal.
"England vs Portugal. Two teams, two massive nations, great players on the pitch. I'll never forget it," Darius Vassell tells Sky Sports News.
"The team that we had were capable, we'd done our research, we'd done everything that was required."
Owen opened the scoring after just three minutes with an exquisite finish, but the pivotal moment came when Rooney was forced off with a broken metatarsal. Vassell came on as his replacement.
Portugal equalised with just seven minutes remaining, before Sol Campbell was dubiously denied a winner for England due to a foul in the build-up. Rui Costa and Lampard provided brilliant goals in extra-time. It finished 2-2 after 120 minutes.
England would face a dreaded penalty shootout once again. After Deco put Portugal ahead with the first penalty, up stepped Beckham - miss. Fortunately for England, Rui Costa then missed Portugal's third penalty and with Lampard, John Terry, Owen Hargreaves and Ashley Cole all putting away their spot kicks, it went into sudden death.
Portugal's goalkeeper Ricardo took off his gloves ahead of Vassell's penalty and with one jump to his left-hand side, the shot was saved. Ricardo himself then stepped up to slot the winning penalty past David James.
"I can't get away from the fact that I took the deciding penalty," Vassell says.
"I wasn't the only person to miss, David Beckham missed a penalty as well. I think he feels the same way as me, that team was supposed to win that tournament. Everybody knew it. That's why it hurt so bad, and that's why we always look back to it.
"Obviously, Wayne Rooney got injured early in the game, it's one of those things that you can't predict.
"I spent two weeks in the house playing computer games after, but then there comes a point where you've got to go to the supermarket and stand up to people and say 'yeah, yeah, it was me, I'm the one'.
"Everybody was fine about it, but at the same time, I do share that frustration that 'will we ever get a chance like that again?'"
Greece went on to be crowned champions, beating Portugal 2-0 in the final. Had England won the shootout, it would have been a fantastic opportunity to win their first major tournament since 1966.
Despite the disappointment, Vassell looks back on summer 2004 with fond memories, and remains hopeful England will triumph at a tournament soon.
"It was just a great tournament. It had promise," Vassell explains. "It was the best team that I'd ever seen or been a part of myself. We were supposed to win that and we knew it.
"It was absolutely crazy, to be a part of that was amazing. Looking back on it is probably more satisfying overall because at the time you have to get away from the idea that these are superstars you're playing against.
"Things change and we had to try and react in the moment. Football does that to you, puts something right in front of you and makes it shine, and then it'll take it away.
"One day soon, England will lift a trophy. I would love to be a part of that, and I'd love to see it."
Euro 2020 may not be taking place this summer, but Sky Sports will be bringing you exclusive interviews in our Euro Memories series throughout the month. Next up on Thursday, Keith Andrews on Republic of Ireland at Euro 2012.