England eyeing semifinal berth at Italy's expense
Kyiv, Ukraine (Sports Network) - England enters every major tournament with high expectations only to fall short when it matters most.
But after edging Ukraine last time out in a 1-0 win that clinched top spot in Group D, things appear to be working in England's favor in Euro 2012.
By finishing first in the group, England avoided title-holder Spain in the quarterfinals. Instead, the Three Lions will square off against Group C runner-up Italy at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday.
Despite a transitional period that saw Roy Hodgson seize control of the national team prior to the start of the tournament, expectations are still high for England. But Hodgson has been quick to point to the positive results his team has collected.
"All we seem to do is talk about expectations," Hodgson said. "It's more important to talk about how the team has conducted itself in the tournament. It's been a really good tournament for us and we've enjoyed every minute of it. The fans who've followed us around have always found themselves in a big minority. They've made a fantastic effort to support us, as have the people back home.
"So, for us, it's not really a question of expectations. We just want to keep going, enjoy this tournament as long as we can, play as well as we can and who knows where it will take us?"
England will be buoyed by the return of Wayne Rooney, who missed the first two matches of the group stage through suspension. The Manchester United star made a triumphant return against Ukraine by scoring the lone goal of the affair.
"(Rooney's) got character, hasn't he?" Hodgson said. "You know what Rooney is, you know what Rooney can do. You know his qualities, and once again (Tuesday) he showed them in abundance. He put in an extremely disciplined performance. I thought he and (Danny) Welbeck worked extremely hard and, of course, although I've played this down to some extent, it is a while since he played a competitive match, so he's got to be happy with how it went.
"We think every day helps him and helps us. And the fact he's had 80 minutes in this game will help him feel he can go into the next game with more confidence."
Rooney and company still have all to do on Sunday as they will be going up against a well-organized Italian side.
Italy finished second in Group C after 1-1 draws with Spain and Croatia, followed by a 2-0 win over Ireland on Monday.
"I think over the first two games (Spain and Croatia) we gave a good account of ourselves - but this was a very important match (against Ireland)," said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. "We've often been criticized for how we deal against teams who play a high ball but we dealt with that very well (Monday).
"I'm happy for the team, for the squad. I'm lucky enough to work with lads who have won some trophies and are still very motivated - they're the ones who determine the team spirit. These players have a lot of quality, as long as they show intensity first and foremost."