There must have been a lot of butterflies in English stomachs last night before the kick-off against Italy, as disgruntled fans whose expectations had been dashed by seeing their team get through the group stages, dared to hope that they would not be let down once again.
Nerves were settled early in the first half, when the ball rattled of the English upright, and as the match wore on, and possession favoured the Italians by a ratio of almost 2:1, confidence was somewhat restored. By the end of 90 minutes, with the England team having made only one goal attempt to every three of Italy's, the stadium was buzzing with expectation - "never mind our success in the groups, we can lose this in extra time".
But English confidence was to be rattled once again, as at the end of 120 minutes, Joe Hart had kept a clean sheet. (If only John Terry could have done likewise, he might still be captain).
The the moment that every fan dreads - the penalty shoot-out. England had put in a match-losing performance for 120 minutes, but would they crack under pressure? The tension mounted as Gerard slotted the first penalty into the back of the net to make it 1-1. Then an Italian miss. The pressure was on Rooney now to balls it up, and an audible groan (what other sort is there? - a groan is a noise for God's sake) went around the stadium as the ball hit the back of the net. Was this English team about to break a long tradition and shatter a hard-earned reputation? Enter Ashley Young, who rapped the ball against the cross bar with such confidence and panache that one wondered why he had not been picked to take the first spot kick - in a high-pressure situation like that, with England in danger of reaching the semi-finals, he was as cool as a cucumber in taking a shot that left little margin for error - an inch or two lower and he would surely have scored.
With the score at 4-2 to Italy, Ashley Cole stepped up to the spot. Of course he had the psychological cushion of knowing that even if he scored this one, England was still in with a chance of losing - but it was a matter of professional pride not to shirk the responsibility, and leave the pressure of another miss to someone else. A lesser man may have scored, but with great style he hit the ball confidently into the arms of the the Italian goalkeeper, having used all the skill at his disposal to send him the right way. And once again England can walk with their heads bowed.
The only question that remains is: Are the Ashleys of English football to be buried in the Ukraine?