Early Doors

England go in search of fresh catastrophe

Just three of England's disastersFour and a half months ago, when Fabio Capello walked away from the England manager's job, ED felt that it was finally going to enjoy that most glorious and rare of things: a truly enjoyable football tournament.

Sadly, that will no longer be possible.

When the FA replaced Capello with Roy Hodgson rather than Harry Redknapp, those hopes grew even more. It was as if a Hollywood studio had hired a BBC4 documentary director to make Top Gun 2: in search of excitement and entertainment, we were being offered solid research and editorial balance.

But just when the nation's hopes seemed to be approached rock bottom, God stepped in to lower them still further with a series of injuries that's made half the squad list read like the list of reserves at an U21 match.

ED was becoming giddily excited by this point: it was a perfect storm, England being in a tournament but with such miserably low expectations that a even a single point would be a great victory. At last, we could sit back and simply enjoy without regrets, and without hopes. We could just be happy to be there.

That isn't to say that ED doesn't always enjoy World Cups and European Championships, but they always end up getting tarnished. Euro 2008 and World Cup '94 were both amazing tournaments, lit up by dazzling matches and hitherto undiscovered geniuses, but with England not even taking part there's always a pang of regret at not being in the party.

But the only thing worse than not being in a tournament is being in a tournament. That's when the pain really starts. Only then does the nation as a whole experience the familiar trajectory of disappointment that seems to follow England: shaky group stage performances generally topped off with a just-good-enough showing to make the knockout phase with some hope left. That's followed by nervy and usually downright lucky progress through any of those sudden death matches we win - remember David Platt's winner against Belgium in 1990 or Spain's disallowed goal in 1996? - followed by a seemingly inevitable defeat in circumstances which are always agonising.

Whether it's been Hand of God in 1986, Paul Parker's shoulder and Chris Waddle's penalty in 1990, Gareth Southgate's penalty kick in 1996, David Beckham's red card in 1998, Ronaldinho's floating free kick in 2002, Sol Campbell's disallowed winner in 2004, Cristiano Ronaldo winking after getting Wayne Rooney sent off in 2006 or Frank Lampard's goal against the Germans in 2010, England have spent over a quarter of a century finding new ways to get screwed over.

All that garbage about better to have loved and lost? Garbage. Shakespeare knew nothing. ED long since came to the conclusion that you're better off not caring. If only it was possible to find a way not to care.

And that's why it was going to be different this time. With no expectations and a tricky-looking group that included a host nation, the talented French and England's bogey team Sweden, we seemed certain to be dumped out of the tournament at the earliest opportunity.

That would have been great - or if not great, then at least something of a relief - no hard feelings, we could have walked away not with heads held high, but stooping and scurrying back into the corner from whence we came. Perfect.

Instead, England is about to embrace a fresh disaster. The Open University lecturer has made his film, and while it is not conventionally exciting it has given us undeniable moments of great drama. England against Sweden remains the most exciting game of the tournament, even if the average Spanish player would see it as a sort of footballing snuff movie.

But both of those results were still not enough to make us dream: we'd pinched a draw against France and ridden our luck against Sweden, but when an exciting and talented Ukraine side also ran up against the brick wall of England's defence and Steven Gerrard's one-man attacking threat, England's hopes of not hoping to make it all the way went out of the window.

ED actually wanted England to face Spain in the quarter-finals: that would have been ideal. We'd have been totally outplayed by a side who are boa constrictor of the game, slowly crushing the life out of their opponents. We'd neither have expected to beat the reigning champions of everything, nor would we have ever imagined we could beat them. Losing 2-0 would have been fine, and for once we could have walked away thinking "good work lads, well done on your decent run" rather than spending the next however many years whingeing about what might have been.

And if we'd once again ridden our luck in defence, and nicked a goal courtesy of Gerrard? Well, that would have been like finding a winning EuroMillions ticket on the bus.

Instead, England approach Italy on Sunday night in a spirit of optimism. A spirit of hope. A spirit, it pains ED to say, of expectation.

And we all know how it ends when we get to that stage.

All that remains is to see how it pans out. Will John Terry get sent off for chinning Mario Balotelli? Will Joe Hart whiff a simple 89th minute clearance and turn round in agony to watch the ball trundling into the net? Will the fifth official declare that Andrea Pirlo's free kick into the side netting actually went in?

Who knows?

And more to the point, who cares? Well, that one's easy. We do.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "You are looking for s***, you are looking for trouble... F*** you." France's Samir Nasri demonstrates his deft handling of the media with his response to a French journalist asking for his view on France's 2-0 defeat by Spain.

FOREIGN VIEW: "We are not the strongest side, obviously, but we are willing to give it everything. We have the right quality, it's time to prove it." Italy coach Cesare Prandelli talks up his men's chances against England.

COMING UP: England v Italy kicks off at 7.45pm, but we'll have features, news and build-up all day before then.

To get you warmed up before then we will be covering the F1 from Valencia at 1pm and England v West Indies playing Twenty20 at 2.30pm.