Penalties. Possibly the worst way any team can exit a tournament. When Gianluigi Buffon saved Ashley Cole’s tame effort, it was former West Ham player Alessandro Diamanti that broke the hearts of a nation. Once the Bologna man tucked his penalty past Joe Hart, England breathed a huge sigh of disappointment. Another shoot-out exit saw Roy Hodgson’s side leave yet another international tournament - their first quarter-final since Portugal in 2006 - with the players and fans wondering what could have been.
Yet, there are two players that can leave Poland and Ukraine with their heads held high – Chelsea captain John Terry and Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott. Much was made ahead of the tournament of the inclusion of the former, with Hodgson picking the former ahead of - perhaps controversially - Manchester United centre-back Rio Ferdinand.
After being stripped of the England captaincy back in February having been accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, many had called for Terry to not be picked for the country. But the recently appointed Hodgson made the call to select the Chelsea defender ahead of his Manchester United counterpart.
It was a tough choice for the former West Bromwich Albion man to make and one that landed him in hot water. However, his call to go with the 31-year-old was warranted following a series of high profile performances, with the 0-0 draw against Italy perhaps the stand-out display from Terry. With the game evenly poised, and looking all but set for penalties, it was Terry who led like a leader on the pitch, despite all-action Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard carrying the armband.
Hodgson's call to go with Terry was warranted following a series of high profile performances, with the 0-0 draw against Italy perhaps the stand-out display from Terry
With the Azzuri enjoying an overwhelming 68% possession in extra-time, it was his no nonsense defending that carried the team through to spot-kicks. The Italians may have had the ball in the net five minutes from time - Antonio Nocerino’s header being correctly ruled out for offside - but the former West Ham trainee held firm when it mattered most, limiting Mario Balotelli’s impact on the game whilst putting his body on the line when it mattered most.
However, much of the credit must also go to Terry’s partner Lescott. The Manchester City defender was drafted in as first choice following the omission of Ferdinand and injury to Gary Cahill. The 29-year-old had won just 16 international caps ahead of the Group D opener against France earlier this month, but he continued his fine Premier League form throughout the duration of the tournament.
As the Italians pushed further and further into the England half, forcing them deeper and deeper, it was Lescott, alongside Terry, who continued to repel each attack. The duo made up for England’s poor attack on the night by keeping the likes of Balotelli, Diamanti and Antonio Cassano quiet throughout the entire 120 minutes.
The link between Joe Hart and Lescott in particular, paid dividends for the national side at Euro 2012. For example, Yevhen Konoplyanka’s effort during the 1-0 win over Ukraine, which Hart parried, was easily swept up by his team-mate when danger was looming. Furthermore, Terry’s goal-line clearance in the same game showed just how important both were to the fortunes of England.
Lescott had won just 16 international caps ahead of the Group D opener against France earlier this month, but he continued his fine Premier League form throughout the duration of the tournament
The impressive displays from the centre-backs bred confidence into the full-backs, with Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson both benefitting from the duo’s commanding presence in the back four. It’s hard to imagine that had Ferdinand or Cahill been selected or been fit, that Lescott would have started all four of England’s games in the competition.
Yet, the Manchester City man fitted seamlessly into the back-four and as the tournament wore on, you could see his confidence grow. And with Terry alongside him, their partnership began to flourish, despite the Chelsea defender admitting he prefers to play on the left side of the defence, Lescott’s favoured position.
Hodgson has regularly based his teams on a solid defence, evident following his time in Italy with Inter Milan. With this pairing he got exactly what he wanted and it is clear to see that the right call was made in selecting them both. Irregardless of the criticism sent in the way of Lescott or Terry, both have made deafening shouts to continue renew their partnership when the rebuilding process starts after the summer.
With the nation’s expectations low heading into Euro 2012, the duo ensured that England managed to top their group and reach the knockout stages. However, it is now time to rebuild. Hodgson was pivotal in Switzerland’s rise to prominence and the FA must be anticipating a similar transitional period, especially with the St George’s Park National Football Centre set to improve the country’s youth team prospects for the future. Until then however, both Terry and Lescott can hold their heads high, fully in the knowledge that the reason England managed to take Italy to penalties was in a large part down to their respective defensive capabilities.
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