England are through to the quarter finals of Euro 2012, reward for a performance of stoical familiar virtues on a mild and slightly fevered night in the Donbass Arena, Donetsk.
A 1-0 defeat of the hosts Ukraine, Wayne Rooney scoring the only goal on his return to the team, was enough to ensure England – against most expectations – progressed as group winners. They also benefitted from a huge slice of fortune as Ukraine had appeals for a legitimate goal waved away in the second half, the ball having clearly crossed England's line before defender John Terry hacked it clear.
Nonetheless, this is still a significant nudge forward for England's hopes of as-yet only vaguely glimpsed future glories: by topping the group they now avoid both the world and European champions Spain and also another long flight east into the heat of Donetsk.
Instead, a meeting with Italy in Kiev's Olympic stadium awaits them. Italy are redoubtable but also beatable. Perhaps it is even time to unfold, cautiously, the flag and cast aside those fatalistically lowered pre-tournament expectations.
In truth this was also a performance of familiar vices: that square-toed inability to keep possession, combined with a neurotically backs-to-the wall approach that saw England retreat towards their goal when Ukraine had possession in the first half, as though fearing average opponents might suddenly be infused with hitherto unseen rapier penetration. But quibbles aside, a quarter final is a fine achievement for a young and depleted team stitched together with breathless haste by Roy Hodgson, who was appointed in succession to Fabio Capello only last month.
The match was also the stage for the return of Rooney. England's biggest star name had been absent from the first two games due to suspension, but was present here in gleaming lime boots to bolster England's weathered old familiars and likeable tyros. It was the announcement of Rooney's name over the PA system that drew the first venomous whistles of the night from the home support: a prescient moment of pantomime as Rooney scored the only goal of the game three minutes after half time, heading in after the captain, Steven Gerrard, had danced Yevhen Konoplyanka into the turf and produced a snakingly malevolent cross.
Dismissed by some as a team of expertly drilled spoilers, here England were guilty only of spoiling the hosts' own party, although it was a surprisingly lukewarm Donbass arena in the hours leading up to kick off.
Donetsk had been painted by some as a cauldron of frantic Eastern European nationalism, but this was always likely to be overblown. Ukraine had failed to win a match in 10 years of playing at this hi-tech oligarch's plaything of a stadium and in truth the country has remained some way short of football-crazy throughout this tournament.
There were plenty of flags around the broad municipal boulevards of Donetsk throughout the day, but no great sense of menace or even particularly of urgency beyond an extremely eager pre-match Ukrainian mariachi band playing an endless loop of the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army.
If England's pocket of fans were vastly outnumbered inside the arena's steeply-banked glass and steel shell, there was at least a familiar face among the massed dignitaries present before kick-off: Roman Abramovich, in powder blue suit and yacht-flash tan. As a British club owner Abramovich might even have been tempted to murmur along a little during God Save the Queen.
In the event it was England's supporters who made the greater noise in the first half on a night pierced by the massed whistles of 50,000 Ukrainians whenever England wrested possession of the ball. Rooney's evening began poorly as he missed a simple chance as the half hour approached, heading wide with the stadium already inhaling in expectation of the opening goal.
And if his goal after half time drew a rather pensive silence, there was justified rancour inside the Donbass just past the hour when Ukraine were unfairly robbed of an equaliser: Marko Devic's effort had clearly crossed the line before it was hooked clear in a moment of desperate athleticism by Terry. No goal was given and injustice roused crowd and players, albeit their fervour could also be directed at the governing bodies for failing to introduce goal-line technology to decide such marginal calls ahead of the tournament.
At the end Hodgson left the field without ceremony as England's players saluted their fans. England's manager has performed with a discreet élan in his six weeks in the job, proving an endearingly astute and unpretentious England manager, and even carrying with him a quiet charisma away from these shores among Uefa bigwigs and overseas managers who know him well. Here his selection was once again the right one with the sole change, Rooney, inevitable in a team of few stars.
Expectations have already been exceeded. No doubt over the next few days it will be time to revive the familiar agony of renewed hope.
• This article was amended on 20 June 2012. The original said that England's manager has performed with a discrete élan in his six weeks in the job. This has been corrected.