The Three Lions found themselves undone by familiar problems when they were eliminated on penalties but also showed a new maturity and gave some reason for optimism
In the end, the story was a familiar one. England were eliminated from Euro 2012 at the quarter-final stage after a penalty shoot-out against a technically superior Italy team that controlled much of the match at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.
Many of the old, endlessly debated problems were present during England's time in Poland and Ukraine but this incarnation of the Three Lions will not receive the brutal criticism handed out to the underachievers that travelled to the 2010 World Cup. Those issues were never going to be solved in the space of two years, after all, and Roy Hodgson has already managed to take some positive steps during his short tenure as coach of the national team.
The 64-year-old has had luck on his side so far, it must be said. Assessed objectively, he has not achieved too much more than Fabio Capello did in South Africa; preferring a 4-4-2 formation that often appeared dated and rigid, England needed plenty of good fortune to achieve the results required to progress from a relatively simple group and came undone against a higher calibre of opposition at the first hurdle of the knock-out stage.
Many of the flaws found in England's efforts and game plan can be traced back to the Capello era. Wayne Rooney, once more, began and finished a tournament imperfectly. The suspension he foolishly earned by kicking out at Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic proved costly, as he missed the opportunity to find his feet by participating in England's first two matches of the tournament.
In retrospect, Hodgson might have fielded Rooney for longer than the 37 minutes he was afforded against Belgium in the second of the Three Lions' two pre-Euro 2012 friendlies, but that the coach wished to give his other options in attack a chance is understandable.
It was not all bad – he did, after all, score the winning goal against Ukraine, albeit into a wide open goal from a yard out. In that match, he appeared understandably rusty, but did what was required and England moved on to the quarter-final. Job done.
Unfortunately, Rooney did not show any more freshness against the Italians. There were good moments – a neat one-two with Danny Welbeck being one – but when you are afforded the status of your country's most dangerous player, 'not bad' is not really good enough. Andrea Pirlo was majestic. Rooney never threatened to reach those heights.
A similar description can be applied to most aspects of England's performance as a whole – there were glimpses, but they were not produced frequently enough. Although Italy only grew stronger and more dominant as the game wore on, England enjoyed a good first half on Sunday, creating a handful of genuine goal-scoring chances while admittedly allowing Cesare Prandelli's team to carve out a few of their own.
Perhaps the shortcomings can simply be put down to the limited pool of players Hodgson had to choose from. England's first XI looks sound on paper, but the real problem this summer has been the lack of depth in areas such as central midfield due to the injuries suffered by Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Jack Wilshere. It might have solved a few selection dilemmas – Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker became automatic choices – but the duo in the engine room consistently tired in the latter stages of fixtures and only the inexperienced Jordan Henderson was available in relief.
There was something different about 2012, though. Few would have expected to be talking of a certain unity and togetherness to an England team plagued before the tournament by Capello's departure, John Terry's upcoming court case and the subsequent controversy surrounding Rio Ferdinand's non-selection and the lengthy injury list that hampered their chances before a ball had been kicked, but so we were.
Gerrard led that transformation as England's best player and their captain. He was tactically disciplined yet threatening on the attack; convinced of the quality of the players around him and defiant in press conferences yet humble and mature too.
At Euro 2012, the same limitations of technique, shape and movement halted England's progress, but the Three Lions finally looked like a team again – and perhaps that is a reason to be optimistic about the future. Same old England, but something new, too.