Stand-in captain Steven Gerrard insists England’s players and staff must take full responsibility if they fail to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals.
England’s hopes were left hanging by a thread after a 2-1 defeat by Russia last night.
Gerrard believes England paid the price for “a mad and crazy five minutes”, as the Russians came from behind to triumph 2-1 in a crunch qualifier.
Steve McClaren’s side looked to be on course for a place in next summer’s finals after Wayne Rooney’s superb volley put them in command.
But then Rooney gave away a penalty – although the initial challenge may have been outside the box – and up stepped Roman Pavlyuchenko to score the spot-kick before four minutes later netting the winner.
It means England have to beat group leaders Croatia and hope Russia fail to beat either Israel or whipping boys Andorra if they are to qualify for Austria and Switzerland.
Gerrard said: “I can’t believe it is out of our hands because we have worked so hard over the last five or six games to put ourselves in the driving seat and make ourselves favourites to go through.
“We went 1-0 up in Russia and you start believing you are nearly there, that you have got one foot in the finals, but football is a cruel game.
“Chances and decisions and mistakes turn football matches and that is what has happened. But for England not to make the finals will be unthinkable. As players and staff we’ve got to take the responsibility for that.
“However, it is important that we don’t give up. We are waiting on other people to do us favours but as players we’ve got to stick together, focus and believe to the end.
“Israel are capable of getting a result against Russia but, with them not being able to qualify, it’s certainly a difficult situation.”
Gerrard missed a golden chance at the start of the second half to double England’s lead but believes the penalty was the turning point.
The Liverpool skipper said: “We had the game exactly where we wanted it. They were running out of ideas. Then came the big turning point which was the penalty.
“We feel as if we were hard done by via the penalty. It looked outside the box, Wayne told us it was outside the box, it looked outside of the box and the linesman didn’t give it.
“The referee seemed to over-rule the linesman and give a penalty. Obviously the lads are down over that and that gives them a lot of confidence.
“It put them on the front foot and they put us under a lot of pressure and managed to get a second.”
Rooney said: “We are all devastated at the final result. It is difficult to take. We all worked hard, defended well and five minutes in the second half has cost us the game.
“As for the penalty, I haven’t seen it again. A few people said it was outside but that is irrelevant now. The ref has given it and that’s that.
“It is going to be difficult to qualify now but we have to hope results go our way.”