England finally offer that performance, to really justify that line.
t was just one of the many magic little details on a perfect night that the thousands of supporters in Rome actually eschewed the obvious.
The song they sang the most was a favourite of the 1960s, as they now do look closer to the modern generation’s 1966 moment than ever before.
“Que sera sera, we’re going to Wembley.”
They’re certainly going home for Euro 2020’s grand finale, as this fearsome 4-0 win over Ukraine really made it feel like they might end up bringing the Henri Delaunay trophy home with them.
There was another line that repeatedly came to mind, though, especially in this city.
Are you not entertained? England opened out in the manner so many had been demanding. And if they’re not entertained, they can certainly be confident.
That was the extra value of this performance, that also emphasises how the win over Germany might have been a transformative moment in itself.
It is why it is fair to describe it as perfect, even if Ukraine were very imperfect opposition. Gareth Southgate could scarcely have imagined a night going better in so many different ways, that will only make this team better.
There was first of all the fact the team finally cut loose, and really looked like they were enjoying themselves. This went way beyond “control”.
There was then the fact Harry Kane finally cut loose, having set England off. The goal against Germany certainly set him off, and he certainly strengthened the argument that there was nothing ever wrong with him other than requiring that first finish of the tournament. He trebled his tally with a double, that first goal after four minutes signalling it was going to be that kind of night.
It was the platform for everything England did, smoothing everything thereafter.
That was itself confirmed with a fifth consecutive clean sheet. And as easy as England made this win look, there were some moments of difficulty. It seems ludicrous now, but there was a spell when Ukraine’s movement – and particularly that of Roman Yaremchuk – gave England more problems to solve than they’ve had this tournament.
The defence stood their ground superbly. Many of them even stepped up further. Harry Maguire’s first goal of the tournament was also England’s first set-piece goal.
Southgate will be particularly satisfied with that since he had made a point of mentioning it before the Germany game. It made it all the more conspicuous that a second soon followed, with Jordan Henderson getting his first international goal. You could see how much it meant it to him. It added that extra emotion on a night when there was only celebration.
It was Mason Mount that provided the cross for that fourth, but Luke Shaw that delivered the second and third.
The left-back certainly made himself one of the dramatis personae with more depth, given the way he spoke about Jose Mourinho. He was here taking command of the Portuguese’s new ground, on the day after his celebrated arrival. Shaw again marked himself as one of England’s players of the tournament.
The stand-out, however, remains Raheem Sterling. It perhaps isn’t a coincidence that the team went up a level just as he did. As convincingly comprehensive as this win became, Sterling’s influence in the uncertain early stages should not be overlooked. There was a series of strong runs early on that just forced Ukraine 40 metres back on their own, as he often changed the tempo on his own.
That is actually what happened with that key opening goal.
With both teams almost testing each other, there was no trepidation for Sterling. He just picked the ball up on the left, weaved his way inside, and played the most elegant of angled balls. It was so perfect that Kane only had to run onto it and he had the goal at his mercy. The forward naturally finished, but that was just the start.
The wonder now is how far this will really go.
Southgate’s side are not just breaking down every barrier, but offering a response to every criticism.
The most significant detail of all remains the consequence of this victory. England have reached a semi-final in successive major tournaments for the first time since 1968, and just the second time in their history. They are right to believe they are on the brink of making even greater history.
Many might dismiss the ease of the path, or the poverty of Ukraine. That’s kind of the point, though. England dismissed Ukraine with ease – to the point the referee actually blew up early – because they had been building to this.
They offer clear signs of growing into a tournament. They will have a real test in withstanding the emotional wave of a fine Danish side.
England are now enjoying an emotional wave of their own, though. You may not be entertained yet. But England should be encouraged.
They’re now going back home. The rest of that should write itself. It’s just England are so aware of the same old story.
Southgate’s team have already changed so much of that. What is now necessary is the right ending.
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