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England Lose on Penalties, But It's Not Quite the Same Old Story

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An England side going out of a major tournament at the quarter final stage. On penalties. But don't stop me just yet, you haven't quite heard this one before.

Before Euro 2012 began, talk was of how low expectations were. So low, in fact, that England might actually be able to surprise a few people.

Oxymoronic that may well be, but you can see the point: this an England team shorn of most of it's 'Golden Generation', no longer coached by an expensive, exotic manager - or a wally with a brolly - and one that promised an early dawn of a bright future.

There were faces old & new, the good (Steven Gerrard), the bad (Stewart Downing) and the ugly (Wayne Rooney). The squad wasn't a return to the familiar failures, nor was it radically shaken-up; rather it was somewhere between the two.

Things got off it a pretty good start, although there wasn't actually anything pretty about our draw with France. But Hodgson's England started as they meant to go on. They may have allowed the French most of the ball, most of the shots and been unable to string more than two passes together, yet still they came away with a point.

Those shackles were loosened somewhat against Sweden, scoring three in a game where, to be honest, both sides were rather rubbish - especially on the defensive side.

After a 1-0 win over Ukraine in the final game, hope and expectation inevitably began to balloon. The group had been topped; Spain had been avoided. England was not playing well, but they were winning games.

Once more it was the austerity approach against Italy, or 'the Chelsea way' as it is seemingly now known, because no side ever played defensively before the Champions League winners did so against Barcelona.

Luck was very much ridden: Italy had 36 attempts over the 120 minutes, England just the 9. Italy had 68% of possession, completing 744 (89%) of their 833 attempted passes. England attempted just 364, completing 269 (74%).

Andrea Pirlo completed as many passes as England's midfield attempted. Joe Hart played more passes than any other Englishman, with 45. Even more dishearteningly, the most common combination was Hart to Carroll, who was only on the field for half the game.

Once it went to penalties, even the most optimistic fans knew it wasn't likely to end well. It never does, and this was no exception.

It is, perhaps, better to go out in this way. It is unlucky, for not unlikely, for England to lose via a penalty shooutout. Rather history reads as such, as opposed to another humiliation at the hands of the Germans.

Hodgson did remarkably well in taking England to the top of the group, and taking Italy to penalties, given the short time he had to prepare. Now, however, time is all he has. And he must use it well.

The focus will switch to the World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign, but the real focus should be on the World Cup itself. They cannot constantly rely on the negative approach used here; that is a short-term tactic, which has served its purpose.

Jack Wilshere and Kyle Walker will return from injury, and should be straight into the side. Steven Gerrard has proven himself this tournament, while there is little alternative to Ashley Cole.

But Scott Parker, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry? No thank you. They've served England well, but will they still be good enough in 2014? No. Are there alternatives good enough to ensure we make it to 2014? Yes.

Chris Smalling and Phil Jones; Tom Cleverley, Jack Rodwell and Wilshere; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Implement a system, a style and build a side. It doesn't have to be the tiki-taka of Spain, or the attacking fury of the Germans. But keeping the ball would be a start, as opposed to a system where 'hard-work', 'dogged defending' and 'showing pride in the shirt' are what matters most.

Roy Hodgson has been granted an unusual opportunity. He's in charge of an England side of which little is expected, and, more surprisingly, is actually liked. Here's hoping he doesn't waste it.