At Euro 2012 England’s nemesis came back to haunt them once again in a major tournament as they were knocked out at the quarter-final stage from a penalty shoot-out against Italy. So on paper it seemed another case of ‘same old England.’
To be fair, it would have been a complete injustice if England had progressed as the Italians outclassed Roy Hodgson’s men in all areas for the majority of the match creating tonnes of pressure, however they couldn’t get past the resilient England defence. It was astonishing how England didn’t lose in normal or extra-time, but the determination the team showed on the night was incredible. England leave Poland and Ukraine with at least a sense of optimism for the future, after most of the general public weren’t backing them to even get out of their group.
The expectations were as low as ever before England flew out to Eastern Europe to take on France in their first group match. Along with Les Bleus, England were placed in Group D with co-hosts Ukraine and old foes Sweden. The first game was always going to be crucial with the task to avoid defeat against the former World and European champions. It was a fantastic start to the tournament when Joleon Lescott headed in from Steven Gerrard’s cross, however his goal was cancelled out by Samir Nasri’s equaliser before half-time. Roy Hodgson’s first competitive match since he was appointed England manager in May saw a disciplined display – exactly what previous England teams haven’t had. The side’s determination to deny the French from scoring again really impressed me, as I feel that is one of our weak areas despite having had some terrific defenders.
England then moved onto Kiev to face Sweden in an incredible match, possibly one of the best games of the whole tournament. Andy Carroll gave England a half-time lead before a Sweden double from former Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg. This left England with a mountain to climb, but Hodgson made the decision to bring on Theo Walcott for James Milner and the Arsenal man made a huge impact to get England back on level terms before delivering the cross for Danny Welbeck to flick the ball home and give the Three Lions an all important win.
The final group match saw England take on co-hosts Ukraine in Donetsk, knowing they would progress to the quarter-finals if they avoided defeat. It wasn’t the best of games to watch, but it did have its moments. Wayne Rooney was welcomed back into the starting line-up after his two match suspension and he scored one of the easiest goals of his career to put England ahead. Ukraine had their opportunities, and the most controversial moment of the match was when John Terry cleared Marko Devic’s shot when replays showed that the ball did in fact go over the line. It was amazingly good fortune for England as Ukraine created chances galore and were the better team for periods of the match. With the match finishing 1-0 to England, coupled with France’s 2-0 defeat to Sweden, Hodgson’s men finished top of Group D to set up a quarter-final against Italy.
It seemed the public’s low expectations were working in England’s favour before the meeting with the Italians in Kiev. The two teams have very rarely played against each other, with the previous outing ending in a 2-1 victory for Italy in a 2002 friendly at Elland Road. This time around, the match had the prize of playing one of the pre-tournament favourites Germany in Warsaw. England struggled to get into the game at first, and the Italians came very close to scoring early on when Danielle De Rossi’s long-range strike came back off the post. Gradually the Three Lions began to cause the Italians more problems, especially on the right hand side where Glen Johnson in particular had a glorious chance to put England in front but was unable to lift the ball over Gianluigi Buffon.
De Rossi had another terrific chance where he beat the offside trap, but scrambled his effort wide from five yards. After surviving more Italian pressure for the remainder of normal and extra-time, it went down to penalties. England were given a massive advantage when Riccardo Montolivo missed his spot-kick however the two Ashleys, Young and Cole, contrived to miss their penalties and they ultimately paid the price as former West Ham flop Alessandro Diamanti sent the Italians through.
In my opinion, England should leave Euro 2012 with their heads held high after putting some pride back into the team and getting the fans on side after a turbulent few months for The FA. The FA did the correct thing in taking their time mulling over a possible replacement for Fabio Capello, and Roy Hodgson is the perfect man for the job.
Hodgson has managed in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Italy and even took Switzerland to the 1994 World Cup. Where else can you get that sort of experience, along with the added bonus of him being an Englishman? He is a well spoken man who has improved England as each match has gone by. The Italy match was his first defeat since he took over as England boss and for me, the future looks bright for the Three Lions. Hodgson has turned England into a disciplined and well-organised force, especially in defence.
There were a few moans and groans with regards to a few of the players called up to the squad, but for those who played some part in Ukraine there were a few mixed performances. I speak on behalf of all England fans when I say captain Steven Gerrard was outright our best player at Euro 2012. It was a terrific decision by Hodgson to give him the captaincy after the John Terry racism debacle. Gerrard always gives 100% for his country, like he does at club level. He made some superb tackles and, more importantly, assisted three of England’s five goals at Euro 2012. After all that was expected of him Wayne Rooney had a more than disappointing tournament, especially against Italy where he barely had an influence. It was a shame for England as he didn’t look match fit at all and, unlike Gerrard, he didn’t produce for his country like he does for his club. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started against France and looked frightening on the wing, so he is definitely one for the future, while his club team-mate Theo Walcott produced a marvellous display against Sweden.
There are positives to be taken away from Euro 2012, and England need to build on this to ensure they reach the World Cup – and who knows what could happen in Brazil in 2014.