For a nation that insisted that we wouldn’t get our hopes up, for a press who had written off hope, and for a group of players who talked down their chances in the face of such great adversaries, England are doing pretty damn well at Euro 2012.
The football we are playing is hardly of the vintage variety. It is unlikely that we will look back at this team in years to come and feel that warm fuzzy feeling. But the fact that results are being ground out where in the past we may have wilted gives a feeling of satisfaction that has been missing at major tournaments for the last decade and a half.
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In fact, this England team – the team that no one is getting excited about – is the best performing one we have produced since Euro 1996. Remember that summer? Football came home, we fell in love with Paul Gascoigne all over again, and we had a manager that the whole nation was behind in Terry Venables.
Wins over Scotland and Holland and a draw with Switzerland in the group stage then gave us a quarter final with Spain, possibly the equivalent of Italy in today’s money. On that occasion penalties came to our aid, before we eventually fell at the semi-final stage to the Germans after a gallant performance.
There are parallels to be drawn between ’96 and now. The nation, so forlorn in the wake of Fabio Capello’s departure, are getting behind a team who have already hit their world stage nadir after a failure to qualify for Euro 2008 and the abysmal 2010 World Cup. In Steven Gerrard we have a midfielder who has finally found international performances to match his incredible ability. And Roy Hodgson has brought everything together with a simplicity, a straight talking charm and, most importantly, a plan. Despite not being the public’s choice, it is possible that Roy could become our most popular manager since El Tel.
This is not a rallying call to the nation to launch hopes of a tournament victory. We must maintain the realism that has made the first phase such a pleasant experience. The chances of us winning the tournament are still slim to none. But this England team have a chance of making their public proud.
The prospect of a gallant loss in the last eight or semi-final is something that has been missing from the last few international tournaments, and although it is hardly reaching for the stars, it will put this England team in the nations good graces. It is from such experiences that we can build for the next two tournaments, where Roy Hodgson will still be in charge (unless something goes horribly wrong), and the chances of finally ending the near 50 years of hurt can be realistic.
Let us enjoy the rest of the tournament, even if only until Sunday evening. And if we should fall to the Italian’s, let us take the positives from the tournament. Take pride in the performances of Welbeck and Carroll, the renaissance of Gerrard, and the never say die attitudes of Joleon Lescott and Scott Parker. This is not the greatest England team – not by a long way – but it is one we should feel no shame in getting behind. This is England, 2012.
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