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Dogged England warriors Gerrard and Terry may be saving their best for last


Steven Gerrard and
John Terry have been
the two key figures as
England topped Group D

Steven Gerrard and John Terry have been the two key figures as England topped Group D

Steven Gerrard and John Terry have been the two key figures as England topped Group D

They came here with very different baggage but it must have carried the same levels of doubt. It pounded against Steven Gerrard and John Terry and few did not ask, or at least wonder, if for one reason or another they had gone beyond their time.

Gerrard might unfurl some of that latent power which has so often gone missing for England, but could he truly lead a team, could he inject himself into the heart of its ambition?

Against Terry there was an even heavier question and it was one that Roy Hodgson spent his first days in office dodging. Did Terry have a moral right to even step on the plane? That second issue might never be truly resolved and certainly not before he appears in court on a charge of racial abuse.

Yet something utterly unambiguous can be said after England's extraordinary and -- let's be honest -- at times seriously hazardous passage to Sunday's quarter-final here against Italy.

It is that without their new captain and the old one who, you have to suspect, might have caused a ruckus at the Last Supper, England's hopes would by now have been dust.

They had threatened to become so in each of the trials that ended on Tuesday night when a brave, impassioned and in the end luckless Ukraine were disposed of along with the potential ordeal of facing world and European champions Spain, but in the worst of the perils -- when French skill was most threatening, when Sweden inflicted chaos and Ukraine saw a goal disallowed on the ludicrous grounds that it had not crossed the line -- there were distinguishing marks about England that were constant.

It was the fierce commitment and drive of Gerrard which, while not always flawless, burnt with sometimes magisterial defiance. And it was the intransigence of Terry, that willingness to respond to the kind of dangerous moments so easily imposed by the likes of Karim Benzema and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as if they had never happened.


If Hodgson had decided to go beyond the perceived evasion of his declaration that he had chosen Terry before Rio Ferdinand for purely football reasons, he would surely have conjured the picture of the Chelsea captain battling it out against Ukraine and doing, once again, what he almost invariably does in the worst of circumstances.

He may have made a catastrophic and ultimately shameless mistake when he drew his red card at the Nou Camp but, just as that didn't inhibit his contribution to the celebrations in Munich when Chelsea were crowned European champions, nor has the controversy over his selection here touched his ability to live in the moment.

Some of Terry's nature may be elusive but about one thing Hodgson was certain, and plainly right to be. He knew what he would get from Terry and it included not only a remarkable physical durability -- something Ferdinand's most fervent admirers could never claim -- but a capacity to walk out on the field and put all else aside.

How Gerrard and Terry fare against the superior craftsmanship of Andrea Pirlo and the eccentric brilliance of Mario Balotelli at the Olympic Stadium is the latest question, but Hodgson is certainly entitled to answer it with some optimism.

He was a knowing and civilised professional -- once again -- in the wake of England's deliverance in Donetsk. If he allowed that Ukraine had played very well and if they had some bad luck, well, didn't England quite recently suffer even more outrageously in the matter of Frank Lampard's disallowed goal? The important thing was that not only had England survived, they had won their group and it was something that had to help confidence before the next hurdle.

Hodgson is too old a pro to fall into premature triumphalism. Italian football may be racked by familiar scandals, they have seen a dwindling of their talent base, but no one understands the dynamics of sudden death much better than the winners of four World Cups. To go out to such a team would involve a familiar sadness for England but, in this year of all years, it would hardly be touched by dishonour.

Now, inevitably, there is the old yearning for more and if, hand on heart, this seems unlikely on all the evidence gathered so far, it is also impossible to ignore the bonus Hodgson has already drawn from his faith in an unproven leader and one from the past who seemed almost a guarantee of division.

If they were an odd couple, they have now emerged as something rather more. They have become the most effective representatives of Hodgson's belief that he had, in a few weeks, drawn the best available mix of English footballers. Of course there is more than a hint of such strength in Joe Hart -- and from such as Joleon Lescott, Theo Walcott, Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck already there has been plenty of encouragement for the belief that England may yet far outstrip their best hopes.

It is, if we take the truth test, still a huge reach. Wayne Rooney's anticipated shortage of match sharpness will take more than the Italian game to replenish fully and it is surely impossible for inhabitants of the real world not to see that, in significant stretches of the Sweden and Ukraine games, England were poor to the point of incoherence. Yet they live, not vibrantly but then not without hopes of finding a little more command, more self-belief.

It is a remarkable, if rather strange journey. England have found strength in some unlikely places -- and some of it on the very brink of disaster.

Nothing, though, has matched the dogged insistence of Steven Gerrard and John Terry in the parts they play for England -- perhaps their last ones on a big stage might just be the best. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent