When England arrived at UEFA EURO 2012, expectations were at an all-time low. A managerial changeover and injuries to several key players had left many wondering whether the team would even make it out of their group. However, the appointment of Roy Hodgson reinvigorated the squad and, after four resilient displays, Steven Gerrard and Co go home with their heads held high.
In a nutshell
Given the limited preparation time at his disposal, Hodgson did a sterling job in organising his troops into a unit which proved very hard to beat. England may have lacked flair but their pragmatic approach earned them a first-place finish in Group D ahead of favourites France. In the end, England were outplayed by Italy in the last eight but their grit and determination meant ultimately that only penalties separated the Three Lions from a first semi-final appearance since EURO '96.
Having taken an early lead in their second group match against Sweden, England switched off for 15 minutes after the break and suddenly found themselves 2-1 down. Defeat would have left them with a mountain to climb, but Hodgson reacted astutely. The introduction of Theo Walcott proved inspired as the Arsenal FC winger crashed in a long-range equaliser before turning on the turbo to tee up Danny Welbeck for a deft late winner. It was a fine show of character from the team and evidence that England had some style as well as substance.
Steven Gerrard has been a revelation since taking over the captaincy. The Liverpool FC midfielder provided the crosses for England's openers in all three group games, but those assists were only part of the 32-year-old's overall contribution. A leader by example on the field, Gerrard was every bit as influential off it, maturing into the skipper's role and exuding quiet resolve throughout.
Hope for the future
England travelled to Poland and Ukraine with the second youngest squad behind Germany but promising performances from Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott, as well as teenage winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, gave fans plenty of reason to believe there is sufficient talent coming through for a bright international future.
Just three goals conceded in four matches at UEFA EURO 2012 gives a clear indication of how Hodgson's England will be a tough proposition for any side over the coming years.
"We gave our all but weren't quite good enough in the 120 minutes and, when it went to penalties, it went as it so often does for England. We go away unbeaten in normal time, but we go home because we can't win on penalties." England manager Roy Hodgson rues yet more misfortune from the spot.
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