Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Pragmatic Roy steers England through to the last eight

England have made it to the quarter finals of Euro 2012, winning the group with two wins and a draw.

Let's keep our powder dry, we're English, FFS!
England rode their luck en route to a 1-0 win over host nation Ukraine, including a "goal" for the host nation which should've counted. John Terry's athletic last ditch clearance was in fact over the line. But Ukraine are out.

Wayne Rooney marked his return from suspension with the winner from a Steven Gerrard (who else?) cross. It was a tap in but an important boost for the Manchester United striker, who huffed and puffed his way through a first outing for five weeks. He looked off the pace for long periods but has an inner determination to overcome his blatant lack of match fitness.

He found his feet towards the end of the match, but will certainly feel the effect of the workout tomorrow.

Keeper Joe Hart was on top of his game and had to be, staying alert to the most determined of Ukrainian strikes, but special mention goes to the skipper.

Gerrard has been magnificent this tournament. He's responded to wearing the armband with aplomb.

Twelve years ago, I witnessed Liverpool's highly-rated youngster make his debut, also against Ukraine. Years later, now skipper, he stands up as our most important player.

Some say we over rely on the set-piece for our goals and creativity: if so, who better than the artist Gerrard to conduct our progress?

In winning the group, we avoid defending champions, Spain. That fate befalls the French on Saturday night. Instead, it's Italy on Sunday who like England, arrived at the tournament with low expectations despite the reputation of a first rate nation.

John Terry, who'll always assume a form of captaincy whether wearing the armband or not, huddled the team together at the final whistle. Difficult to beat and united in purpose, England have a chance to make it to the semifinals. Then again, so do Italy. We must remain resolute and concentrate hard. Our dreams of winning can end in a heartbeat.

England aren't the finished product by any stretch, but as John Lennon said "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans".

We've more than a fighting chance of going beyond expectations and this is a vast improvement on Capello's South African flop.

Roy Hodgson's called everything right. It's as if being overlooked for the job too many times has prepared him even more so. Doesn't he look so much the better choice than Harry Redknapp now?