Soccer

Grit is better than grace for England's Parker

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KRAKOW, Poland (AP)

The message from England is clear: don't expect us to start playing like Spain.

Gritty performances from Roy Hodgson's side haven't been pleasing on the eye at the European Championship but the team remains unbeaten and has secured a quarterfinal against Italy.

And they'll persist with trying to frustrate teams rather than being graceful in Kiev on Sunday.

''At the end of the 90 minutes if we're still winning games I'm not too fussed (about the style),'' England midfielder Scott Parker said. ''We all have a fascination - we all do - and we all watch Spain and know how great these teams are. Since I've been around, they're possibly the best team I've ever seen.

''We all need to recognize our own qualities and strengths. I'd be lying to say we couldn't do a bit better going forward, but we're still winning games. Ultimately, in competitions like this, that's the most crucial thing.''

England has indeed paid more attention to grinding out results, rather than attempting to replicate the swift, neat passing of world and European champion Spain.

It may not be as entertaining, but it also raises a fair question.

''How many other teams play like Spain?'' Parker asked reporters at England's Krakow base. ''How many teams have you seen in this day and age who can play like Spain? There aren't many are there?''

As a holding midfielder, Parker exemplifies the tenacity of a team where functionality overrides flamboyance.

''When I watch the best in the world, of course ... you want to be like them,'' the Tottenham player said. ''But you are what you are, aren't you? And you have to make the best out of that.''

Parker's former club, Chelsea, certainly did. The team overcame favorite Barcelona and then Bayern Munich in the Champions League with its defensive tactics - and won the European Cup for the first time last month.

''It was at times backs against the walls for them, but they got through it,'' Parker said. ''But you can't underestimate the sort of quality we have and how much belief you can have from togetherness in a team and a siege mentality, really. Certainly, as a team, we've got that in abundance. That's clear to see.

''Certainly there'll be times in games where we need to control it a bit better if we can, but we have the quality to do that. Hopefully, the longer we go in the tournament, confidence will come and we'll do that.''

The togetherness drilled into the squad by new coach Roy Hodgson clearly helps.

''We're like 11 bulldogs who will never give up, who will always work for each other and basically die on the pitch for each other,'' defender Ashley Cole told the BBC. ''So far, it seems to be working.''

Cole is key to the defensive solidity under Hodgson which has even impressed Sunday's opponents.

''I'm sure he's preparing the match very well, especially the defensive phase,'' said reserve Italy goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis, who played under Hodgson at Udinese in 2001. ''He uses a classic 4-4-2 and he always tries to give his squad order.''

And despite not being in control of their Euro 2012 matches so far against France, Sweden and Ukraine, the English still topped their group with seven points.

''The important thing is that the players feel neither inferior or superior,'' Hodgson said. ''They have to go out on to that field knowing what they're jobs are.''

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Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris



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