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Penalty kicks once again boot Brits

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England hates the penalty shootout. English fans really hate the penalty shootout.

For the third time in eight years at a major tournament, soccer's founding nation fell victim to a newfangled quirk of the game. The seemingly random arrow of five-kicks-a-side, used to bring an end to endless ties, pointed the other way once again.To make it worse, the opponent was longtime rival and political foe Argentina, which beat England in the Diego Maradona "Hand of God" game 12 years ago.

"We are almost distraught," England coach Glenn Hoddle said after Tuesday's loss that sent the Argentines to a quarterfinal against the Netherlands. "It's a bitter, bitter pill to take. . . . It's a very difficult way to go out of the tournament."

Back home, the losers were lionized.

"Heroes," the tabloid Express declared on its front page. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who watched the match with his children at 10 Downing Street, said the team "showed the English spirit at its very best."

An estimated 28 million people in Britain watched the match, and the national power service said electricty usage surged to levels registered when the "Who Shot J.R?" episode of "Dallas" was shown in Britain in 1985. British Airways said it was sending a supersonic Concorde to bring the team home.

Not all the reaction was grand. Street violence was reported in Argentina and England in the hours after the game.

As England's notorious fans with tickets filed out of Saint-Etienne's Stade Geoffrey Guichard and those without shuffled out of the city's bars, there was some violence, although not on the scale of the running battles that consumed three nights in Marseille when England played there last month.

World Cup organizers Wednesday said 36 arrests were reported after the match, mostly for theft, public drunkenness and attacks on police.

The English fans seemed too depressed to rumble.

"Penalties, sad. Penalties, sad," muttered one fan, shaking the shaven head on which he had painted huge red intersecting stripes to represent his country's flag. "The best team went out."

Penalties were also England's curse in the 1990 World Cup semifinals and in the 1996 European Championship semis. Both times, the Germans won the shootouts - and then went on to win both titles.

The Argentines, suddenly unabashed enthusiasts of the spot-kick roulette wheel, would like to follow the same trail.

"It's the most dramatic way to end a game," said Argentina's coach, Daniel Passarella. "It's very hard to watch it from the sidelines. . . . It's very sweet to send the English back home. Very sweet."

The victory kept Argentina's record in World Cup shootouts perfect - 3-0, making 11 of 14 shots.

Argentina's victory completed the quarterfinal pairings. The Argentines will play the Dutch at Marseille on Saturday. Croatia, which defeated Yugoslavia 1-0 in Tuesday's other game, will face Germany in Lyon, also Saturday.

Friday's games are Italy-France at Saint-Denis and Brazil-Denmark at Nantes. Wednesday and Thursday are the first off days since the tournament began June 10.

At Saint-Etienne, Argentina goal-keeper Carlos Roa made the stop on David Batty's penalty kick to win the shootout 4-3 after 120 minutes of gripping action left the score 2-2.

There were three goals, including two penalties, in the first 16 minutes. England played the last 75 minutes with only 10 men after David Beckham was ejected for kicking Diego Simeone in retaliation.

"Never has a country as small as Croatia produced such a result as we did today," said Miroslav Blazevic, who led his seven-year-old nation into the final eight. "We have eliminated a team with a great tradition."

Croatia is the first country to make the quarterfinals in its World Cup debut since East Germany in 1974.

The lone goal in the victory was Davor Suker's penalty kick in first-half injury time. Argentine referee Javier Castrilli called the foul on midfielder Gabriel Popescu, whose legs became entangled with those of Aljosa Asanovic as they chased the ball in the penalty area.