Olympic Spirit for Three Lions

“Do they ever just hit it down the middle?”
“Sometimes.”
“I bet this guy does.”

If only Joe Hart had had the same insight as my first-time-football-watching girlfriend when Andrea Pirlo stepped-up in Kiev.

Despite low expectations and with little fanfare to the build-up – no Cross of St. George flags adorning car bonnets, no Terry Venables vs. Fat Les mash-ups, no chance, no hope – Roy Hodgson’s inaugural campaign slowly gathered a pace that had even the most fervent Euro-sceptics turning their heads and daring to believe. Ultimately, a whopping 23million tuned-in to see Pirlo’s Panenka-pen before Ashley Young crashed against the bar and England crashed out of Euro 2012.

In truth, the Three Lions were outplayed all over the park and were relieved to get through 120 minutes of the quarter-final unscathed. The gladiatorial Pirlo had dominated proceedings and his audacious chip at the end really typified Italy’s upper class.

The talismanic Gerrard carried England through to the knockout stages but Hodgson needs to urgently address his squad’s lack of quality on the ball if they are to justify standing third in Fifa’s latest world rankings.

Quite how England are at bronze medal on the global football podium is beyond me, and the seventh-placed Italians, runners-up at the Euros, will challenge the tables once more with tonight’s match in Berne.

The friendly line-ups will be much-changed from six-weeks-ago with fringe players looking to stake a claim for forthcoming World Cup qualifiers. Hopefully, Lord Coe’s legacy will extend to inspiring the next generation of English footballers to emulate the success enjoyed by British athletes this summer.

In yesterday’s press conference, Hodgson noted the impressive performances of our Olympians and conceded that a benchmark has now been set for footballers. He also stated how fans can learn from the spirit of London 2012:

“We don’t need that hatred and abuse that footballers have to suffer. Certainly we didn’t see too much of that in the Olympic Games … I wouldn’t mind a spotlight also focused on the crowd because I think one of the things that made the Olympic Games for Great Britain was the incredible support within the stadia.”

It’s an interesting observation, and one not without merit.

Yet, football is a very tribal sport and it’s hard to feel sorry for those multi-millionaire players who sulk to engineer transfers, frequently feign injury, or consistently under-perform internationally.

If Roy’s men believe they deserve more public backing then they could learn a lot from the mature humility of Tom Daley, the perfectionism of Jess Ennis, the strength of Mo Farah and the dogged determination of the Brownlee Brothers.

For me, one of the games’ most memorable moments was the post-race interview with silver medalist rowers Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase. The devastated pair had given everything but narrowly missed out on their golden dream – they were so exhausted and inconsolable that even the usually velvety-smooth John Inverdale couldn’t help but well-up.

If England were to give such a brave performance tonight, one that sees a courageous Carrick give his all and ends with a lionhearted Carroll vomiting on the sidelines through sheer exertion, a daring display that reduces Adrian Chiles to tears, then I’ll be a very surprised but satisfied Englishman. I’ll also settle for a 1-0 win.

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