Euro 2012 Man of the Day: Steven Gerrard
England fans will probably be hailing the visually challenged fifth official Istvan Vad as the hero of the hour, but their captain rose above the mediocrity on show to guide them into the quarter-finals.
Regardless of what happened in Donetsk last night, this morning's back pages were always going to focus on the returning Wayne Rooney and headline-writers’ jobs were made all the easier when the Manchester United man scored the easiest goal of his career to seal an incredibly scrappy 1-0 victory.
Granted, some of the tabloid sub-editors could have done a better job than ‘Wayne’s a hairoo’ (The Sun) and ‘Back in the old Rootine’ (The Mirror – we see what ye did there lads), but if they were looking for the real inspiration behind England’s success, they should have been giving Steven Gerrard all the credit.
Roy Hodgson’s side may have topped Group D, but they have been average at best in the tournament so far and weren’t even that in the Donbass Arena last night.
They have relied on isolated moments of quality in the three games to date and the majority of those have been provided by a man that was almost shoe-horned into the role of England captain amid the incredibly overdone John Terry/Rio Ferdinand debate.
The assist for Rooney’s headed tap-in came from a cross from Gerrard from the right wing, as had Andy Carroll’s superb opener against Sweden and Joleon Lescott’s headed effort against France. Gerrard has been delivering quality balls like that for Liverpool for years, but for England, he has kept a lid on the more ambitious passes that he has been prone to indulge in at club level.
For all his qualities, tactical discipline isn’t one you’d normally associate with Stevie G, but along with Scott Parker, he’s helped keep England’s midfield very compact and has very rarely given the ball away. The one occasion he did last night, when attempting to play a simple ball to Glen Johnson down the right, he could be seen on camera cursing himself for a good five seconds immediately afterwards.
Expectations for England heading into the tournament might have been low, but predictably, finishing top of the group has resulted in caution being thrown out the window and Twitter was abuzz last night with all sorts of famous English people predicting for about the 25th time since 1966 that this will finally be their year.
As skipper, the challenge for Gerrard will be to pour heaps of cold water on those expectations in the next few days, but trying to stop the English football public getting carried away with themselves might be beyond his capabilities.