Yes, we lost on penalties. However, ours is a generation that has grown up under the strain and pain of such footballing cliche. Despite the inevitable and sickening pain derived from watching with clinical heartache the celebrating Italians, in the cold light of day positives can be found. For once, those positives are pertinent and abundant, and a nation, though reeling from defeat, must look to them.
Most forthright in this positive postmortem is the defence. Rarely has an England manager had at his disposal a defence of such talent and solidity. Throughout, the phenomenal backline of Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott and Ashley Cole proved, self-evidently, to be the most stoical and equipped present in Poland & Ukraine. Time and again, tough teams such as France, Ukraine and Italy, threw literally all they could muster at a devout England rearguard, with few goals yielded in reply. Arguably, this is the firmest defence England have ever had; a gift on which Roy Hodgson, surely, will look to build.
Perhaps the mobilising agent of such defensive talent was the feisty competitiveness borne in the palpable togetherness and hunger of this England team. Relaxed in a more welcoming and hospitable camp and organisational structure than under the rule of Capello two years prior, this England thrived. Embracing the culture and hyperactivity of tournament life, the players perhaps unknowingly formed a strong and impressive camaraderie and communal desire to succeed. For a fandom loving of football, it is so easier and enriching to invest in a national team that once again shares an analogous appetite and yearning for victory. Roy Hodgson, even in his short reign thus far, has made England eminently more believable again.
Caught up in this wave of harmony and calm enveloping the England camp was the marvel with which Hodgson was watched, as he organised such a competitive side in so little time. Handed the role of England Manager with less-than-ideal time constraints, Hodgson was forced to learn on the job as to his squad, his tactics, his aims Therefore, the fact that this hastily-assembled England came within the width of a crossbar of a potential semi-final berth is a wondrous achievement in and of itself.
Also, this is an experience that will be of benefit to the youngsters incorporated in the squad. Talented prospects such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Martin Kelly and Jack Butland have experienced, firsthand, the timeless English disease of penalty failure; a disease that, in future tournaments, they will be responsible for isolating and curing to the joy of all. Young players need bleeding at the highest level, and, undoubtedly, Oxlade-Chamberlain and the like will benefit greatly from this Euro experience; it will strengthen their resolve, and whet their appetite yet further for prospective future England success.
Lost in the whirling media postmortem will be the unavoidable fact that England won their initial qualification group! Centre in our minds now is the hurt and pain of penalty defeat, but we must not forget nor diminish the perfectly-mapped progression into the knockout phase that enabled us even to be on the pitch in Kiev. Drawn in a group with a wild French side, a traditionally-tough Swedish outfit and a patriotically-fueled co-host, ours was a qualifying predicament. The fact that England qualified is, in mere essence, a tremendous feat, but that Hodgson's team clinched a quarter-final spot as group winners deserves rightful recognition.
Once home, England must be galvanised. Faced with a tricky qualification group for World Cup 2014 Brazil, England must realise that, out in Poland & Ukraine, success was tasted. With further players of remarkable talent, such as the inimitable Jack Wilshire and exciting Kyle Walker, to be worked into the Hodgson jigsaw, the future looks unmistakably bright for England. Thus, the pain still festers in the heart of a nation, simultaneously repetitive and searing of description. However, this Hodgson-led England can illuminate plenty of positives.