However when England won a modest looking group, suddenly the cautious realism was replaced by a euphoric explosion of expectation. There was an English manager in charge, the team seemed united and Lady Luck seemed to be on their side with John Terry’s over-the-line clearance against Ukraine. Heading into the quarter-final against Italy, hopes were high.
The ballooning bubble of expectation was to be pricked savagely by the Azzurri, as England faced an onslaught towards their goal for almost the entire match. England had pulled the wool over people’s eyes. In essence they were still the team which stunk out South Africa from 2010. England still refused to cast off the shackles of the retched 4-4-2 system, and their rigid formation was picked apart by Andrea Pirlo alone. Wayne Rooney failed miserably to live up to expectation and Ashley Young was probably the worst of the lot.
England’s eventual demise on penalties was for once completely deserved. No hard luck story this time. Italy had lingered over England’s life support machine for the duration of the game and when Diamanti scored the winning penalty the plug was finally pulled.
So can Roy Hodgson turn it around and win the World Cup in 2014? It will take the equivalent of a footballing miracle. The way Champions Spain toyed with their opponents throughout the tournament like a cat with a mouse, is something England can aspire to, but at the moment can only dream of.
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