When pundits and analysts sat down to analyze and predict the fortunes of various teams prior to the onset of Euro 2012 many agreed that the Germans, Dutch and Spanish would be the top contenders for the trophy.
The Portugese were also highly rated save for the caveat that they normally failed to go all the way in major tournaments. The Italians and French were also expected to give as good as they got.
Few, if any, gave the English the chance of winning the trophy.
Well things have changed slightly. The English have been un-spectacular at this edition of the Henri Delaunay tournament in the group stages but they have also been very effective, dogged and persistent a trait rarely seen in English teams in the recent past.
At 2-1 many would have written off the English against a vibrant Swedish side in the group stages but they came back to win against all odds. Against Ukraine some would have expected them to flounder but they scored the all important opening goal and hang on to win. They defended well against the French and generally gave a good account of themselves in the opening game.
Steven Gerrard, in what may be his last major tournament, has been in sublime form. He has contributed to 3 of the 5 goals that the English have scored and has been the heart of the team quietly commandeering proceedings from the midfield. If he keeps up this tempo one can only see the English improving by the game.
Joe Hart has been fairly excellent between the sticks. The goalkeeping department has been a constant headache for the Three Lions tacticians in the past. From as far back as Peter Bonetti in the 1970 World Cup to Robert Green and David James English 'keepers have been guilty of game changing blunders. In Joe Hart one feels that the English have a stable top notch goalkeeper capable of rescuing the team from the jaws of defeat.
Wayne Rooney has finally broken his goal drought in a major tournament stretching back to 2004. One feels that his goal against the Ukraine portends well for the future. Andy Carroll when given a chance has been a constant threat and a supply line for Gerrard and the wingers. His headed goal against Sweden was a demonstration of power and precision.
The defence has by and large been solid. Questions have been asked about Terry and his performance at the back but he has gradually gotten into the scheme of things, his supreme performance in the last group match a case in point. Glen Johnson, Lescott and Ashley Cole have been effective cover for Terry in an impregnable defensive formation.
In Hodgson the English FA has finally found a tactician who is respected by all the players, who has a keen eye for detail and who is able to influence a game by making key substitutions at crucial times. One remembers how his substitution of Milner for Walcott turned the tide for the English against the Swedes.
Luck has also, at least so far, been on England's side. One may never know what would have transpired if the clear goal that Ukraine scored had being allowed. Lady Luck may for once have pitched camp in English territory.
The word from the dressing room is of an English team that is united and focused. A team that has one goal in mind and is determined to succeed where others before them have failed. A team that embodies the spirit of the Three Lions. This is a team that though not playing the best football is likely to shock many and lift the trophy.
The Hodgson tactic of building from the back is seemingly the key to grinding out victories. Quite obviously if you concede less goals than the opposition you will win matches.
With a strong back four and a stable midfield marshalled by Parker and Gerrard it is evident that the team has the basics right. With Rooney back in attack and a blossoming relationship with Andy Carroll and an established one with Danny Wellbeck the nucleus of a title winning team has taken shape.
Man for man the English team consists of some of the greatest players in the world but this has not translated to results on the pitch. The time has come for the Three Lions to finally lay their hand on silverware. Their 4-2 win over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final is a memorable but distant memory and needs to be replaced with a title win in the 21st century.
Is Hodgson the tactician who will give the football hungry English public their first silverware in decades? Will the Three Lions leave their mark in history? The answers to these questions will shortly unfold.
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