As sure as the sun rises, England follows the same blueprint in every major tournament. First, in a pre-tournament frenzy of wildly overambitious optimism, fans and media convince themselves that this year is "the" year. Then, at the start of the tournament, voracious English tabloids fan the flames of a relatively innocuous storyline until it engulfs the team in drama.
Once England crashes out in the knockout stages, the witch hunt for a national scapegoat begins (past honorees include Sven-Goran Eriksson and David Beckham). This cycle repeats itself as a bi-annual Groundhog Day for an entire nation, but this year was different.
For once, England entered a tournament without domestic delusions of grandeur. This was in large part due to the FA's hiring of Roy Hodgson, which came barely over a month before the Three Lions' first game against France. With little time to prepare and several key players missing through injury and suspension, England arrived in Poland and Ukraine with its lowest expectations in recent memory.
Once at the tournament, the affable Hodgson masterfully built upon his team's underdog tag in the press. Meanwhile, he successfully implemented a cohesive — if brutally boring — defensive system well-suited to the circumstances. England grinded out three undefeated games to finish at the top of Group D, only for the sun to belatedly come up.
While England had avoided expectations during the group stage, its progression to the knockout rounds awoke the nation from its stupor, and the aforementioned Rascal was at the center of it. Domestic expectations were so low that the rapper initially hadn't bothered to come up with a song before the tournament. However, once the team started made some headway, Rascal sprinted to the studio to revise his patriotic anthem "Shout (For England)" that topped the U.K. charts before England's short-lived run at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. With expectations rising and "Shout 2012" dominating airwaves, England turned in a meek display before losing to the Italians by way of penalty shootout — though it was fortuitous to even make it that far.
The squad has been spared the media pitchforks thus far, but this tournament went the same as it always does for the Three Lions: penalty-kick heartbreak early in the knockout stages. Maybe they'll learn their lesson in 2014 and keep Rascal out of the studio.
Listen to Rascal's "Shout (for England) 2012" in the video below.
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