Gerrard - England are gaining momentum
England captain Steven Gerrard believes his side are slowly hitting form at the right time after securing top spot in Group D with a 1-0 defeat of Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine.
Gerrard provided the assist as the returning Wayne Rooney headed home from point-blank range for the winner just after half-time and he feels an unheralded squad can continue to improve.
England now face Italy in the quarter-final on Sunday.
He told ITV1: "It was a difficult group and the idea was to try and win it. No-one believed in us at the start but we're gaining momentum at the right time.
"I don't think tonight's performance was fantastic, but we stuck together, got the job done and won 1-0 against a good team.
"We've been criticised in the past maybe for not turning up, under-performing and we can take that, we're man enough. But you saw a reaction.
"When you get criticised it's not nice and you have to react by playing better and I think that's what we did."
Gerrard brushed aside suggestions England would be overjoyed at playing Italy instead of world and European champions Spain, insisting the team were ready for whoever they may face in the remainder of the competition.
"Italy are next, they've got match-winners and we have to give them respect," he said.
"And if we do well in the next game we might play Spain again in the competition."
Goalkeeper Joe Hart was beaten once in the match, when Marko Devic's shot apparently crossed the line before being hooked clear by John Terry.
Hart told Radio Five Live: "I haven't seen it, but the most important thing is we won the game 1-0."
Manager Roy Hodgson went further, admitting his side had a slice of fortune.
"They (the players) have been really good from the start. If someone said we'd win the group I don't think they'd have many takers.
"Most people didn't think we'd get out of the group. We've won it on points instead of goal difference as well.
"This was an away game with a capital 'A': there were 60,000 people in and only 4,000 brave England fans. When we needed a bit of luck, when the ball may have crossed the line, we got a bit of luck and went on to win the match."
Hodgson, who had just two matches in charge before the start of the tournament, stressed his team were a work in progress.
He was, though, pleased that Rooney made a goalscoring return from a two-match suspension.
"This is a fledgling team as far as I'm concerned," he told ITV1.
"But we're working at our game and showing composure on the ball and in attacking areas is always the most difficult part.
"That's where you need your Wayne Rooneys. This game will be good for him.
"He played well, worked hard and could have had several other goals. On the counter we were dangerous enough but we could have been more dangerous."
Rooney was visibly buoyed by his return to the side.
"Obviously I was delighted with the win and to score," said the Manchester United man.
"I haven't scored at a major tournament for a while (since 2004) so it was nice to get a goal which won us the game.
"We stuck in well at times against a difficult crowd and overall we deserved the win."
Asked how he felt about Italy in the next round, Rooney was more eager to stress his own side's qualities.
"I said before it doesn't matter (who the quarter-final opponents are). The main thing was to get through the group and to finish top," he added.
"We know our qualities and what we're capable of. We've worked hard, done a lot of tactical play in training.
"We're difficult to beat and I don't think any team will fancy playing us."