24th June, 2012
KRAKOW, Poland: If England are to confound pre-tournament expectations and progress beyond Sunday’s Euro 2012 quarter-final with Italy, they are going to have to make a little bit of history to do it.
The criteria may seem slightly esoteric, but it is an inconvenient truth that England have never beaten a World Cup-winning nation in the knock-out rounds of a major tournament held on foreign soil.
And if England are successful against the Italians, they will reach the semi-final only to be confronted by another reminder of past failings – namely that they have never beaten Germany in a tournament staged outside Wembley.
While the significance of the various gloomy statistics can be debated—England did, after all, record a 1-0 win over Argentina in a high-stakes group game at the 2002 World Cup—Roy Hodgson admits that victory over the Azzurri in Kiev on Sunday would represent a significant breakthrough.
“It would be a great step forward, there’s no question of that. All of these negative statistics that we have to learn to deal with can only be put to bed when you get a positive one, that’s the bottom line,” said the England manager, who became an experienced ghost-buster during his spell at West Bromwich Albion.
“I came across it quite often – ‘We haven’t won here for 30 years, we’ve never finished above Aston Villa, we’ve never won a game at Stoke, we’ve never done this, we’ve never done that.’
“I got quite used to it in the end and I was lucky enough there to put a few of those hoodoos to bed as it were. And that’s the only way you can do it.”
Hodgson is careful to keep the statistics in context, however, anxious to ensure that what he describes as a “minor form of history” does not weigh too heavily on his side, distracting them from the task in hand.
“I’m not trying to play it down,” he said. “I’m making the obvious point that it’s not something, to be frank, that I want to burden the players with.
“We’ve got to do our best as a football team to get our minds right and go out on that field and play in a good mental and physical condition to win.
“I’m not going to add to the pressure by saying: ‘Oh, and by the way, can you be ‘historic’.’ Let’s just win the game.”
“If it came off, it would be a) fantastic, because we’ll be in a semi-final, and b) it would give us a bit of an extra glow. It would put one of those nasty statistics for a team of England’s stature to rest.”
England’s chaotic preparations for Euro 2012, which saw Hodgson appointed to the manager’s job at the last minute before a slew of injuries to key players decimated his squad, means that even a defeat to the Azzurri on Sunday would see the campaign judged a success.
However Hodgson was quick to play down any suggestion that his players would be anything other than distraught if their campaign ends in Kiev.
“Whenever we lose in this tournament, whether it’s in the quarters, the semis or the final, it’s going to be a sad day, there’s no doubt,” Hodgson said.
“Unfortunately, like the rest of the country, we dream as well. We dream of doing well and winning matches. There’s no particular comfort in thinking there’ll be kind words for us if we go out.
“We don’t want to go out. We do want to continue. But I fear Italy do as well. That’s what we’re faced with.
“There’s no complacency around. There’s never been even the slightest thought or mention that, if this happens, it’s not so bad. That really has not been mentioned. The thoughts are all positive. We will be ready.”