The question Iâ€™d just asked my friend Andy hung in the air. Who was going to be David Batty this time?
â€˜Ashley Youngâ€™ he replied.
The biggest problem that Roy Hodgson faces after last night is not that most of the team are either too old or not good enough or both, but that as soon as Sweden and Ukraine had been beaten, the so-called â€˜lowered expectationsâ€™ went out of the window: theyâ€™re on theyâ€™re way down to Rio de Janeiro for eighteen months rest and recuperation.
All of a sudden we found ourselves confronted with the usual heady combination of more or less uncritical pride and an irrational feeling that somehow England would prevail. Last nightâ€™s BBC coverage exemplified all that: Gaby Loganâ€™s â€˜interviewâ€™ with Ashley Cole couldnâ€™t have been any blander and should have been shown again after the match. Immediately before kick off, a random Shakespeare quote, an anonymous rapper that none of us at Andyâ€™s house could identify and Gary Lineker doing his special â€˜seriousâ€™ stare into the camera â€“ the one that actually meant something a few months ago following Patrice Muambaâ€™s collapse at White Hart Lane – were all dragged out of the clichÃ© cupboard to get the BBC audience geed up before the kick off.
Over the next few hours, England found themselves two missed spot kicks away from a semi final against the Germans but let’s not kid ourselves. The Azzuri had almost four times as many shots on goal, over twice as many corners and 66% of the possession. And that was far from the best Italian side Iâ€™ve ever seen: at times the game was like watching England against a slightly better version of England. We matched their lack of creativity, poor first touch and excruciating inability in front of goal last night, and we never once looked as if we could nick a goal on the break. Arguably our best chance came from Wayne Rooneyâ€™s attempt at a bicycle kick at the end of normal time: if he hadnâ€™t been worried about his toupee falling off, he might have made a better connection.
During the game â€“ in fact during everyÂ England game in either the World Cup or the European Championships â€“ itâ€™s always worth remembering that since 1954 weâ€™ve failed to progress to the semi finals in ten of the 21 major tournaments weâ€™ve qualified for. The inevitable penalty shootout was not only predictable but also great fun for trivia fans: I suppose there might be another instance of two players with the same forename missing penalties in a shootout, but I canâ€™t think of one right now.
The plain truth is that weâ€™re not as good as we think we are. None of the players or the staff will come out and say that, even though I suspect they realise it. There were some positives: the idea of attempting to recreate Manchester Unitedâ€™s attacking structure by using Ashley Young and Danny WelbeckÂ looked better on paper than on the pitch, but the introduction of Jordan Henderson towards the end of extra time really caught my eye and could be a decision of Hodgson’s that may have an impact over time.
To close their programming, the BBC showed one of those nice slo-mo montages that probably produced quivering lips in pubs and living rooms across the country. Presumably one of the editors had been instructed to compile two endings: somewhere there must be a laptop that contains all of the montages that were edited together to be shown if England had won a few of the quarter finals weâ€™ve lost over the years – which is more or less the same idea ITV had for their ridiculous pre-tournament trailer.
Theyâ€™ll actually need to the ‘winning’ montage one day, Â but at this rate it wonâ€™t be any time soon.