England captain Steven Gerrard is confident his team are building momentum at the perfect time after beating Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine 1-0.
The Three Lions drew their first match of the tournament 1-1 with France but, despite falling behind, they then picked up a 3-2 win over Sweden and finished the group stage with a 1-0 triumph over Ukraine, knocking out Oleg Blokhin’s men and sending themselves top of the group.
The midfielder admitted that fan expectations were low before Euro 2012 started, with few giving the team much of a chance, but he is pleased England were able to get through a difficult group and are finding momentum.
“We came into this group, a difficult group and the idea was to try and win it,” Gerrard told ITV.
“No-one believed in us at the start but we are gaining momentum at the right time. I don’t think tonight’s performance was fantastic but we got the job done, stuck together and won 1-0 against a good team.
“We have been criticised in the past for not turning up at times and underperforming.
“We can take that, we are man enough to take that criticism, the important thing is to respond and react.
“I think you are seeing a reaction from this team. When you get criticism it isn’t nice, so you have to respond and that is what we are doing.”
Ukraine felt they should have equalised in the second half when Marko Devic’s deflected shot went over the goal-line before John Terry was able to clear, but Gerrard believes England were due a bit of luck and hopes for some more.
“You need a bit of luck along the way. You don’t do well in these competitions without a bit of luck, it doesn’t matter how good you are or how well you play you need that bit of luck and I hope we get some more,” he said.
The Liverpool captain was also keen to underline the importance of Wayne Rooney to the national side, suggesting that his return could see the Three Lions go far in Euro 2012.
“If he keeps scoring those tap-ins (like the winner against Ukraine) for us then we can go a long way in this tournament,” Gerrard said.
“They are just as important as the 30 yarders. As I said before in the press conference, he is so important for the team and the nation and he proved that tonight.”
Up next for England is a quarter-final tie against Italy on Sunday as France’s 2-0 defeat to Sweden allowed Roy Hodgson’s team to top of the group and avoid holders Spain.
But Gerrard is still wary of the threat posed by Cesare Prandelli’s side.
“If we do play well in the next game we might play Spain later,” he said.
“So I’m not going to say anything negative about or towards my team-mates or underestimate us.
“Spain are a fantastic team and so are Italy. We will take every game as it comes.
“Italy are good defensively and have match-winners so we have to respect them.”