This time two years ago, the Spanish national team were on the road to lifting their first ever FIFA World Cup in South Africa after their unique tiki-taka left other major footballing nations eternally chasing the ball for 90 mentally, and physically tiring minutes. Spanish fans were therefore in prolonged jubilation due to their triumph. However, within the same tournament, a much darker story occurred.
West of sun-struck Spain, a country’s World Cup experience had been at the contrasting end of the scale, leaving fans, players and staff embarrassed and in disarray. That was, of course, Fabio Capello’s overrated, lacklustre England. After the inevitable optimism, English hopes appeared high as the tournament began until the poor, 1-1 draw with the USA set the scene for what would be a disastrous and highly criticised World Cup campaign; with the Germans soon making sure Capello’s team took no further part in the competition after the round of 16. Despite the ill attempts to defend England because of Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’, it is a well-known fact they simply did not deserve to progress due to the uninspiring quality of football exhibited.
Possibly only one moment of half-hearted happiness sprang from the self-created darkness in the twighlight of Capello’s reign: when both England and Spain met under Wembley’s arch in November’s friendly, the underdogs surprisingly emerged from Spain’s suffocating grip victorious: Lampard’s 49th minute header gave The Three Lions a 1-0 win and something to shout about until, that is, what proceeded consumed the media’s build up to Euro 2012.
When Fabio Capello resigned as England manager in early February, it provoked a mixed reaction which, as is commonly known, involved Stuart Pearce, Harry Redknapp and a surprise in the form of a certain Roy Hodgson. The former West Bromwich Albion, Liverpool, Fulham and Inter Milan boss definitely wasn’t (and still isn’t) the media’s choice for the job; nevertheless, he quietly proved many critics wrong. Under minimal pressure, he achieved more than expected with drastically reduced resources.
As a result of Hodgson’s appointment, the optimistic advertisements and promising propaganda halted and was nowhere to be seen; the country expected far less (compared to the usual hopeful target of winning) and in many ways, the pressure was relieved, this once, from the squad and manager. Looking at his coaching experience and respectable reputation built up from Swedish origins, there could not have been a more approachable and genuine candidate to select. Redknapp, after all, is what some would call unreliable. Therefore, England entered the tournament depleted, yet upbeat and unaware of what exactly lay ahead for them. As seen in the two friendly matches prior to the competition (against Norway and Belgium), Hodgson’s makeshift England would be no masters at keeping the ball despite their solidity, plus they could defend well in spells: two factors which repeatedly appear in England and Hodgson’s story so far.
France, England’s first competitive opponents under Hodgson and in the tournament itself, appeared transformed and revived under Laurent Blanc in the qualifying stages and therefore intimidated England fans; would an opening defeat prolong their nation’s agony? Would it, yet again, be the introduction to a disastrous tale? Negativity circled before an Englishman had even touched a ball competitively at the Championships. Hodgson explicitly had his team playing for a draw, and a 1-1 result, given the circumstances and rushed preparations, proved positive for the easily pleased whilst countering critics’ uncomfortable predictions. For the first time in a very long time, Hodgson gave fans brief glimpses of a professional, hard-working team with respectable ethics. Furthermore, an excitable 3-2 victory over the Swedes (including a situation where England have previously crumbled when behind) and an ever so slightly boring 1-0 win against Ukraine continued the hard-working trend that may soon become stereotypical of the new-look Three Lions.