Steven Gerrard says England are gaining momentum all the time as they head into their quarter-final meeting with Italy
Roy Hodgson’s England finished top of Group D thanks to a 1-0 win against Ukraine on Tuesday and Gerrard admitted the performance against the co-hosts in Donetsk “wasn’t fantastic” but said the team had done what they needed to do as Wayne Rooney’s goal secured victory.
It meant England, around whom pre-tournament expectations were low, emerged from the group unbeaten with seven points after drawing their opener against France and then coming back from 2-1 down to defeat Sweden 3-2.
“We came into this group, a difficult group, and the idea was to try and win it,” Gerrard said. “No-one believed in us at the start, but we're gaining momentum as we go along.
“The performance wasn't fantastic, but we worked hard and got the result. Wayne Rooney's goal was a tap-in - but if he keeps scoring tap-ins for us, we'll go a long way. He is important to the team and the nation.”
The Liverpool captain said England had “found a better level of performance” and explained: “We have been criticised in the past - we can take that, but you've seen the reaction.
“It is not nice to be criticised, but you need to respond. We'll take each game as it comes. The Italians are next, and they're very strong defensively.
“You need a bit of luck to do well in these competitions. Let's hope we get a bit more along the way.”
Gerrard's fellow midfielder Scott Parker urged fans to remain realistic despite England’s progress, telling the FA website the team were not “all of a sudden going to turn into Spain".
“The more we progress, we put more pressure on ourselves," he said. "We'll keep taking it step by step - and then who knows?”
Goalkeeper Joe Hart praised both matchwinner Rooney and England’s supporters, in Ukraine and at home. The Manchester City star said: “We've listened to the support of these magnificent people today, the brilliant people at home have wished us well, and we're just really proud.
“Wayne Rooney returned and scored a goal like Wayne Rooney does, because that's the type of player he is.
“We can achieve what we came here to achieve - we came to win games. France was a tough start, yet we felt we could have won it, and now we've won these last two games.”
Midfielder James Milner hailed the togetherness in the England camp and said: “It is pleasing we are improving, and the more time we spend together we will get stronger and stronger,” while Joleon Lescott, who scored England’s opening goal of the tournament against the French, said: “We want to continue to progress and get as far as we can.”