Published November 20, 2014
While the English Premier League has become the richest and most widely viewed around the world, the national side have punched below their weight for years but there have been hints at Euro 2012 that this may be changing.
Under new manager Roy Hodgson, England have started to play like a very united club side, with no prima donnas, an evident team spirit and a steely determination to overcome the odds.
They showed that in their Group D victories over Sweden last week, when they recovered to win 3-2, and against co-hosts Ukraine on Monday when a 1-0 scoreline in the Donbass Arena sealed top spot and a quarter-final with Italy in Kiev on Sunday.
The conundrum at the heart of the English game is that the Premier League, which last week sealed a new three-year 3.0 billion pounds ($4.71 billion) TV contract to run from 2013, has attracted the best overseas players which, in turn, is said to limit opportunities for English players at the highest level.
English clubs continue to do well in European competition - Chelsea are the European champions - but in their three appearances at these finals, including the opening 1-1 draw with France, the wheel appears to have turned full circle.
England's players have battled and supported each other like they do at their clubs - just as Hodgson asked them to when he arrived in Ukraine - and under the urbane and diplomatic veteran coach they actually look as if they are enjoying being here.
As Hodgson said after beating Ukraine: "It has been a really good tournament for us and we have enjoyed every minute of it. It's not a question of expectations any more, we just want to keep going and enjoy it for as long as we can."
The mood around England is also very different from the one at the World Cup in South Africa under the disciplinarian Italian Fabio Capello two years ago.
Wayne Rooney, back from a two-game suspension to score the winner against Ukraine with his first tournament goal for eight years, was among those expanding on the change.
"We know our qualities, and what we are capable of and we are enjoying being here and working together as a team," he said.
"We've worked hard and done a lot of tactical play in training. We are becoming harder to beat and I don't think any team will fancy playing us."
Hodgson, who only took over six weeks ago, is now unbeaten in his first five matches and, even if England lose in the quarter-finals as they often do in major tournaments, he does appear to have given back to the players a sense of belonging and pride in pulling on the white shirt again.
Skipper Steven Gerrard, named man of the match for an impressive display against Ukraine, said he was delighted with the way the team performed on Monday even if they did enjoy the luck when an effort from Ukraine's Marco Devic appeared to cross the line with just over an hour played.
"This is a very professional and very committed group of players who are totally united and working very hard together," he said afterwards. "We know what we have done before, we get to the quarter-finals and then go home, but things do change.
"To be successful you need a little luck and perhaps ours is turning. We are looking forward to the next game, we don't fear anyone and have as much chance as anyone else of doing well."
Since 1996 when they reached the semi-finals of the Euros on home soil, England have gone out at the quarter-final stage of the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and the 2004 European Championship, but there is a feeling it might be different this time.
As well as getting the luck on the disputed goal, which in the past has gone against them, England also came from behind to win a game in a tournament for only the fourth time and the first since 1990, while the win against Ukraine was their first over a host nation since they beat Switzerland in the 1954 World Cup finals.
With Rooney scoring his first goal in tournament play since Euro 2004 in Portugal, a sense is developing that England might go further than many people predicted.
Of course, it could revert to type on Sunday with defeat by Italy but even if they lose, the "good vibrations", as Hodgson described the mood surrounding the team now, could well continue when the World Cup qualifying campaign begins in September.
(Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Ken Ferris)