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Steven Beacom: Canny Roy could drag England over the line


DONETSK, UKRAINE - JUNE 19:  John Terry of England clears an effort from  Marko Devic of Ukraine off the line during the UEFA EURO 2012 group D match between England and Ukraine at Donbass Arena on June 19, 2012 in Donetsk, Ukraine.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

DONETSK, UKRAINE - JUNE 19: John Terry of England clears an effort from Marko Devic of Ukraine off the line during the UEFA EURO 2012 group D match between England and Ukraine at Donbass Arena on June 19, 2012 in Donetsk, Ukraine. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Laurence Griffiths

DONETSK, UKRAINE - JUNE 19: John Terry of England clears an effort from Marko Devic of Ukraine off the line during the UEFA EURO 2012 group D match between England and Ukraine at Donbass Arena on June 19, 2012 in Donetsk, Ukraine. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

When England appointed Roy Hodgson as manager, ahead of media darling and fans’ choice Harry Redknapp, you could almost hear the groans echoing all over London and through the Shires.

I must admit I wasn’t convinced myself, especially following Hodgson's bitter experiences at Liverpool. He couldn't cope in that big job, with the shadow of Kenny Dalglish looming over him like an axe about to fall, so, how would he handle an even more high-profile role?

After speaking to Northern Ireland international Gareth McAuley my thinking changed somewhat.

Like many others, McAuley was disappointed that Hodgson was joining England, though, not in the same manner as the English media and supporters.

Big G was genuinely gutted because he was losing Roy as his boss at West Brom.

McAuley told me that in the space of a year Hodgson made him a far better player, crediting the 64-year-old for helping him to shine in his first season in the top flight.

Gareth said that Hodgson was superb in the dressing room and on the training pitch adding that he would surprise his critics and be a success with England if the players bought into his methods, which major on discipline, shape and organisation. And therein lies the prime reason why England have reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 and could go further.

The England players are doing it Hodgson's way and so far it is working.

It's true today's squad is not as talented as other England sides over the past 15 years.

For instance remember the 'Golden Generation'? They had quality but couldn't even get close to silver or bronze as they lacked spirit, togetherness and character.

Hodgson (pictured) has instilled those qualities in the current bunch and he has done it in a fashion that means you can actually warm to this England team — and even like them.

The people of Northern Ireland have had many differences down the years, but one thing that tended to bring us together was seeing cocky, brash England brought down a peg or too.

I've lost count of the number of tournaments England players approached saying they were going to do this, that and the other when a few weeks later they were out having done very little.

Guided by the wonderfully understated Hodgson things have been different this time.

Unlike say Glenn Hoddle or Sven Goran Eriksson, Roy has introduced some much needed self control and reality to the camp.

Right now his players are coming across as modest in comparison to predecessors.

They entered the tournament with expectations low. With hopes rising by the day and the tabloid press desperate to unleash themselves from recent restraint, it will be interesting to see how the players react ahead of Sunday's quarter-final with Italy. They would do well to remain confident, and not become arrogant, focused and not be full of themselves or the danger is they will lose much of the goodwill and unity built up.

Hodgson has been crucial to the mentality with Steven Gerrard not far behind him.

Gerrard prefers this more low key approach and is revelling in the fact that the boss trusts him as skipper.

His mature performances in press conferences have only been bettered by those on the pitch.

New Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers must be licking his lips at the prospect of working daily with Gerrard, who the Ulsterman calls “the ultimate”.

Gerrard has been England's best player, creating goals in attack one minute and protecting his defence with crunching tackles the next.

The closest to Gerrard in terms of performance has been John Terry.

Two years ago at the World Cup, during the often shambolic reign of Fabio Capello, Terry wanted to be judge and jury — there was that infamous media briefing in South Africa when it seemed as though he wanted to take over the captaincy from Gerrard and management from the Italian. Terry probably fancied taking over the country too.

The Chelsea defender will never win any popularity contests outside Stamford Bridge but he is proving in this tournament what a valuable player he is and instead of going off on one with that egotistical individual streak of his, he has stepped into line adhering to Hodgson's 'the team is everything' ethic.

JT certainly gave everything racing back to hook the ball clear against Ukraine during the 1-0 victory on Tuesday night. Yes, it went over the line, but Terry did enough to create doubt in the minds of officials and keep England ahead, albeit fortuitously.

Having topped their group England will need more of the good luck granted to them in Donetsk as well as Gerrard and Terry at their commanding best against Italy. The Three Lions could also do with Wayne Rooney roaring a lot more than he did against the co-hosts.

Rooney scored the only goal of the game in his comeback, but overall he was poor. I'd pair him in attack with new buddy Andy Carroll for the Italian job.

That match is 50/50 but it's a game England can win if they negate the influence of Andrea Pirlo and then a mouth-watering semi-final with Germany beckons... before potentially facing Spain in the decider.

From being no-hopers a fortnight ago, England are now contenders for the Euro crown. They could do it. And for once I wouldn't mind at all.

Best goal: Zlatan Ibrahimovic's brilliant volley during Sweden’s 2-0 win over France. Still don’t think he’s as good as he thinks he is, but it was a superb strike. Also the screamer from Poland captain Jakub Blasczykowski against Russia deserves a mention.

Best save: Maybe not the best, but the most important was from Spain's Iker Casillas to deny Ivan Rakitic against Croatia keeping the holders in the tournament

Best team so far: Germany, and they have yet to hit top form.

Worst team: Republic of Ireland.

Sad to see you go: Croatia and Russia.

Good riddance: The Dutch. What a bunch of wasters. Arjen Robben said after Holland's exit that the players had to look in the mirror. That's not the solution. That's the problem. These preening primadonnas look in the mirror too much thinking how great they are.

Biggest surprise: Greece making the quarter-finals after winning one point from their opening two games, with Russia to play in the third. Also England have done better than I thought.

More to come from: Spain and Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.

Best England player: Steven Gerrard. John Terry's been good too.

Worst England player: Ashley Young.

Best Republic player: Keith Andrews (which tells you everything, really).

Worst Republic player: Shay Given (normally so reliable) followed closely by the ineffective Robbie Keane.

Best player: Tough one, but Italy’s Andrea Pirlo has really impressed. He’s just ahead of Steven Gerrard at the moment. Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic has also shone, but is sadly on his holidays now.

Worst player: The Dutch team.

Best pundit: Roy Keane. Jamie Carragher has been interesting too. ITV are caning BBC at the moment. RTE are second thanks to Johnny Giles.

Quarter-final predictions: Portugal to beat Czech Republic, Germany to defeat Greece, Spain to overcome France possibly after extra time and England to triumph against Italy, maybe on penalties.

Impressions so far: It’s been a fascinating tournament with plenty of compelling games, fine goals, controversy and talking points. Now we are in the knockout stages, it will hopefully become even better.

Belfast Telegraph