There were no wild celebrations after England’s 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic on Tuesday night confirmed their place in Euro 2020’s knock-out stages as the winners of group D.
There has been a strange mood surrounding the national team so far at this tournament; grudging respect mingled with frustration and misplaced disappointment.
England have performed well, remain unbeaten and have not conceded a goal yet, but there is a creeping fear in the English psyche that as soon as they face one of the leading nations they will be knocked out of the tournament.
There is a desire for England to play with a more cavalier attitude, but their manager Gareth Southgate knows that it is solid sides, who are hard to score against, that win tournaments and not crowd-pleasers.
Southgate has to navigate this demand for attractive football with the more important need to collect points and victories, and so far he has done it well.
In this final group game against the Czechs Southgate accommodated this desire for more attacking football by giving first tournament starts to Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka, who both rewarded him with fine performances.
When Saka’s inclusion in the team leaked on social media hours before the game there was a strangely furious reaction from England fans, but when the game kicked off he managed to quickly silence them.
The Arsenal man brought attacking intent to the right side of England’s team, and he constantly unsettled the Czech defenders.
Saka did this in the 12th minute when his surge through the middle panicked the Czechs, and began the move that lead to England taking the lead through Raheem Sterling’s header.
England fans have been quick to criticise Southgate’s selections, but yet again he got this one right, and Saka left the field to hearty applause after 83 minutes.
There had been a clamour for Southgate to include Jack Grealish, who some have hailed as a modern reincarnation of Paul Gascoigne, and against the Czechs he finally relented, and again, was not disappointed.
Grealish gave England a fresh probing energy and a new mindset where he was always looking for an attacking pass.
It was his perfectly weighted cross that lead to England’s winner when he floated a ball to the back post on to Sterling’s grateful head.
Grealish likes to operate as close as possible to the opposition penalty area, which had the effect of pushing Harry Kane further up the pitch.
The still goalless Kane appeared to appreciate the support and he put in his most effective performance of the tournament so far.
But there is still much more for the Tottenham man to give, and the hope is he will come alive in the knock-out stages to drive England to the final.
The return of Harry Maguire to England’s defence was just as important to the side’s success against the Czechs.
Maguire helped keep England’s third consecutive clean sheet of the tournament, but he also made a huge impact with his role in the side’s attacks.
Maguire’s incisive and quick passing helped England remain on the front foot and also pushed the full-backs Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw further up the pitch.
Do not underestimate the difficulty opponents are having breaching England’s defence, for this is the first tournament they have kept three clean sheets in the group stages since a certain World Cup in 1966.
Overall, England have now kept eight clean sheets in their last nine games, and obviously if they continue this they could go all the way at Euro 2020.
Next up in the round of sixteen are the runners-up of the so-called group of death, probably either France, Germany or the defending champions Portugal.
But England have nothing to fear; their back line is in fine form, and their attacking players showed signs of sparking in to life against the Czechs.
There are plenty of reasons for England to start believing.