Last night I slept soundly. One linear dream. The final of Euro 2012.
England 3-1 Germany. It was 3-0 at one point. Ashley Young lashed the third in from the edge of the box. Germany got one back in the 77th minute: the superego coming back in to tell me not to count my fantasy chickens. Still, Stevie G lifted arguably the most aesthetically pleasing cup of them all, the Henri Delaunay trophy, above his head.
Okay, so it can’t happen in real life, principally because if we did meet the Germans it would be the semis – as every Englishman and his dog will have drummed into them between now and Sunday presuming (enter your own unpredictability of football cliche here) that the Merkel-backed Deutsch Nationalmannschaft satisfy every last Twitter witticist and UKIP coffee morning across the land by kicking the Greeks out of the euro.
Apart from the opposition and the ‘fact’ that the game seemed to be played at a 1996-vintage Wembley in my dream, I didn’t laugh at the preposterous nature of the outcome upon my waking (which occurred when I was genuinely “rudely awoken by the dustman”, thus completing this script of early nineties boyhood fandom.)
I have already skirted the argument that your subconscious never gives up hope, even if Stewart Downing makes the final 23, so this dream may herald nothing. However, the point is my consciousness no longer finds the holding of a candle an incredibly stupid thing to do (and Downing for one hasn’t got so much as a sniff of Ukrainian grass seed). My heart’s been broken before, as you can probably tell. But Roy Hodgson has a point when he tells us we can dream again, and not just because his lick and polish persona evokes a bygone time of pre-Moneybags United football when unheralded and unfancied teams could, and did, win silverware.
At Euro 2012, England have actually been playing to their strengths and playing quite well. Okay, there is nothing world-beating about us, but then the same can be said of the (albeit defeated) World Cup finalists Germany in 2002, or indeed World Cup winners Italy in 2006. Panned by the newspapers, England’s performance against Ukraine was pretty sound by my judgement. An ugly host-shaped banana-skin well avoided, unlike at Euro 1992.
The realistic (nee ‘lower’) expectations have served England well. Individuals in the team appear to have bought into the need to unite. We have all realised that the sum of our parts is not enough – finally rejecting the arrogant mindset of players and fans alike; one that has caused us to come a cropper during every tournament summer for the last ten years. What’s more, there is competition for places, everyone wants to work for each other and those that have come in have performed their well-defined jobs to the best of their ability – see Andy Carroll’s incredible 90 mins against Sweden, or of course Theo Walcott’s game-changing cameo in the same encounter.
Additionally, all these performances feel like they owe as much to the manager as to the individual, something you could not say when Beckham refused to give up against Greece in 2002 or when a young Wayne Rooney destroyed Croatia in 2004. To me, it’s considerably more reminiscent of Venables’ tactical masterstroke of introducing Jamie Redknapp v Scotland in 1996 (sorry, here come the nineties again).
Every player has been doing their bit – putting a shift in is, after all, what we’re supposed to do best. Only James Milner has really disappointed. Given that four of our five goals have come from the right and he has contributed squat towards any of them then he has to go down as the prime candidate for the axe. (But then has he really been that bad? What does anyone expect of him? To track back? He’s done that.) Thankfully Glen Johnson has had the tournament of his life.
All that means is that I’m well on the way to my hopes being raised ahead of another quarter-final. But then the memories come flooding back and the bitten-so-many-times-that-shyness-should-be-considered-progress heart dampens the spirits. We haven’t beaten a “major” nation at an international tournament since Argentina in 2002, and even that was a group game. You want to say history means nothing, but past failure must be in the souls of those players as much as mine.
Then again, we had never beaten Sweden in a competitive fixture til Roy came along.
Our QF opponents Italy looked superb against Spain but had clearly raised their game against Del Bosque’s team, judging by their more workmanlike performances against Croatia and Ireland. However, we should not draw confidence from the opposition: renewed hope should come from within. You may be able to name fewer members of the Azzurri than ever before but don’t let that fog your judgement – Italy could quite conceivably win the tournament.
But – excuse the axiom – Sunday is 50/50. It is the hardest quarter-final to call and that is good enough for me. Mr Hodgson, you’ve literally got me dreaming.
Posted by Gregg Morgan