"England expects" has often been their motto heading into major tournaments, but given their performances down the years, perhaps "England expects too much" might have been more appropriate.
The last time England won a trophy (save for Le Tournoi – a dress rehearsal for the 1998 FIFA World Cup – in 1997) was the FIFA World Cup way back in 1966. In my lifetime, their most tangible achievements have been semi-final appearances at the 1990 World Cup in Italy and EURO '96 on home turf.
These days, the majority of fans are too young to remember Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet trophy aloft at Wembley and as a result, gradually, expectation levels have declined. For the first time in a long time – ever perhaps – hardly any supporters have tipped England for glory at UEFA EURO 2012, particularly after the managerial changeover and a spate of injuries in the immediate build-up to the tournament. At best, expectation has been displaced by hope.
England arrived in Poland and Ukraine with virtually nothing to lose and everything to gain, and so far gain they have. Four points from their opening two games against France (1-1) and Sweden (3-2) have left them needing just a point from their final group match against co-hosts Ukraine to secure a place in the quarter-finals.
Much of the credit has to go to Roy Hodgson, who has done a sterling job in knocking together a competitive side in a very short space of time. England remain unbeaten under his leadership, and while they have hardly been the tournament's most dazzling outfit, there is a smouldering element of hope that they can "do a Greece".
Hope is contagious, although my memories of UEFA EURO 2000 serve as a warning not to get carried away too soon. Back then, England were in the similar position of only requiring a point in their final group game, against Romania, to progress to the last eight. Despite an opening loss to Portugal, spirits were high and after beating Germany through a classic Alan Shearer header, the country was beginning to believe 'King' Kevin Keegan could inspire the team to great things. Sadly, a calamitous defensive display and an ill-fated challenge from Phil Neville resulted in a 3-2 defeat against the Romanians – and suddenly England were out.
Playing the co-hosts with an entire nation willing them on is going to be no easy task on Tuesday, and I certainly wouldn't like to predict which way it's going to go. England's best bet is to remain humble and cling to the belief that we have nothing to lose. That way we won't be left feeling short-changed and anything the team achieve will come as a bonus.
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