For many this morning, that horrible Monday morning feeling would have felt a thousand times worse with the realisation that England had once again succumbed in a major international tournament to the dreaded penalty shootout. England’s exit from the tournament was anything but positive, a dreary and solemn performance against Italy coming at the end of a mixed set of showings against France, Sweden and Ukraine. Solid yet unspectacular, England have failed to set the nation ablaze with attacking intent yet have provided glimpses of promise. Need something to look forward to? Here are five reasons to be cheerful about England’s future:
1.) The emergence of Steven Gerrard as a steadfast captain
If England’s build-up to the tournament was dominated by a tit-for-tat debate over the destination of the captaincy, the post-mortem will no doubt indicate that there is one stout candidate for the role in the coming couple of years: Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool man has pulled on the armband previously, yet generally as a stand-in option. After his resolute and determined performances in Ukraine, Roy Hodgson’s decision will have been made easier as we head into the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers.
Dynamic, vibrant and vivacious in the centre of midfield, Gerrard was pivotal in setting up goals in all three of England’s group games, whilst also displaying attributes necessary of any England captain: drive, passion and fortitude. Though outshone by a masterful Andrew Pirlo in the quarter-final, Gerrard was England’s player of the tournament, perhaps freed by the burden of having to make partnership with Frank Lampard work. After the Terry-Ferdinand scandal, with Wayne Rooney still volatile and Joe Hart still adjusting to international football, there seems no other viable candidate.
Many will wonder why Gerrard has not been given the captaincy on a consistent basis earlier.
2.) New generation impresses
Through choice, circumstance and context, Euro 2012 saw the absence of many of England’s old guard and greater chances heeded to a new generation of players. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain displayed a tantalising glimpse of future potential, Hodgson’s commitment to the Arsenal winger exhibited in his brave selection to start against France. Theo Walcott at last began to showcase a big-game pedigree which had been shockingly absent in previous tournaments, arguably turning defeat into victory single-handedly against Sweden.
Likewise, Danny Welbeck was a noteworthy performer, running England’s line well and showing a nimble ability often missing from England’s game. Between the sticks Joe Hart recreated his sterling club form and seems set to become a pivotal cog in England’s future machinery.
Through the gloom, England have seen more than enough from their young charges to suggest 2014 may be a different story.
3.) England exemplary off the pitch
The issue of hooliganism follows England around like a pesky kid unpopular kid at school, yet for five successive tournaments the Englishmen abroad have been of huge merit to their nation. Since some unsavoury Belgian scenes in 2000, England fans have taken to improving our reputation with great relish, mixing peacefully with locals and opponents alike. Only an overzealous and obsessive enactment of punishment on UEFA’s behalf could taint England’s reputation at Euro 2012. No longer can the rest of Europe make any justified association between the words ‘English’ and ‘hooligan’.
4.) A more disciplined, orderly and methodical England
To paraphrase Ian Holloway, she may not have been the best looking bird in the club, but you’d still take this England side out for a coffee. Homely rather than stunning and as ordinary as you could find at the tournament, England still managed to grind out results when it mattered. A tidy reversal of fortunes against Sweden, a battling victory against the hosts and combative draws against France and Italy showed a steelier reserve to this England side compared to previous teams.
The capitulation of Fabio Capello’s men against Germany at the 2010 World Cup highlighted an inherent lack of backbone, but England came out at Euro 2012 a sturdier proposition, less likely to crumble into submission. Though lady luck played a starring role in England’s story, any team able to hold back the mercurial talents of Pirlo, Balotelli and Cassano for 120 minutes must be commended.
5.) Few tabloid recriminations
England in the past have often been blighted by the scourge of the English press; destructive, damaging and detrimental coverage creating an air of negativity at major tournaments. With limited expectations this time round, the fallout will lack the malice and malevolence often seen in the past. At Euro 2012, going on penalties in the quarter-finals was not the catastrophic calamity it had been previously. A more humbling mood is present. There will be no scapegoats, no effigies hung from lampposts or death-threats sent to referees. Nobody is evidently at fault. England overachieved and thus board the plane home with their heads held a touch higher than at previous tournaments.
At least it wasn’t the Germans this time…
If you want to help expand (or maybe shorten) this list, tweet me @acherrie1