Last week’s win over Ukraine was full of sights that have been frustratingly rare in recent years; Rooney celebrating a goal in a major international tournament, a clean sheet, and most importantly of all, England fans singing jubilantly after seeing their side actually come top of a group stage for once.
The three displays thus far, as well as the pre-tournament warm up matches, certainly can’t be described as spectacular or enthralling, but they are proof of an England national side who for once seem capable of playing together. There have been moments in all three games where we’ve been undeniably outplayed, particularly against Ukraine, but success comes through positive results, not one-sided possession statistics, and as Chelsea found out at the back end of last season there is absolutely nothing wrong with winning defensively.
In previous competitions the media pressure has been unrealistically overwhelming, but has now been replaced with sensible and cautious optimism rather than outright fervour and idiotic expectancy. If perennial underachievement has given us anything, it’s the realisation that we are not one of the best teams in the world, and we have no given right to do well (even if we did invent the game etc etc.)
If we follow the national stereotypes and footballing cliches of the teams then we see that Germany have efficiency, albeit with newly added flair, Spain have wonderfully technical players, Italy have a solid defence and Holland and France have the capability to implode seemingly in an instant. So what about the English? Well, we have fierce pride and an inexhaustible work ethic, and those are two traits that are going to be so crucial as we play teams who are far better at actually playing football than we are. Is it a coincidence that both of these are seemingly more evident now that we have an English set up in the camp? Probably not. Capello and Eriksson may have thrown all their previous success at the job, but in hindsight they simply didn’t have the full blooded back up of the team or in fact the nation.
Another trait of the English is of course pessimism, and this was clearly prevalent in the ‘We’re not going home’ chants coming from the supporters after the Ukraine match. Only we could incorporate the concept of leaving the tournament into a song as we progress in said tournament. This pessimism will hopefully take a bit of pressure off our players as we go into the Italy game with a ‘Well, I suppose we could win’ attitude.
And you know what, we might just do that.