Football: The day after, the colossus of Rome sees Hercules

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The morning after the night before, Ian Ridley finds one of England's modest heroes up bright and early and ready for some real work - a spot of washing and shopping.

England having landed at Luton Airport at 4am yesterday morning, it seemed best not to disturb Tony Adams, the colossus of Rome, until lunchtime. Actually, he had been up at 8am to do some washing and shopping before going to the cinema in the afternoon. The film? Hercules, of course.

It was for his two youngest children, Oliver and Amber, though, rather than to feed any vanity. He himself could not see why I was making such a fuss about his own performance of the night before. Had he ever played better? "Yes, against the Netherlands in Euro 96, and the semi-final against Germany. And I thought I played as well for Arsenal in Salonika," he said.

Then came a simple statement which revealed a knowledge of his own talent and worth, but contained not a hint of arrogance: "I am pretty good at my job, you know."

In fact, others can say it for him, Adams gave a towering display of composed defending in the most intense and demanding of circumstances. One timely tackle and another interception set an early tone, sending out the message to Italy that this rearguard was going to take some breaching.

Thereafter, it seemed that as spare man at the back, Adams almost had his fellow defenders Sol Campbell and Gareth Southgate on a rope, such was the understanding and sympathetic movement between the three as they cordoned off the channels and forced the Italians into safe, wide areas. "Sol and Gareth were magnificent. And David Batty was an unsung hero. So many people were," he said.

When necessary, Adams also seemed to pull in the wing-backs David Beckham and Graeme Le Saux and no matter how many or how good the strikers Italy used - six characters in search of an author, it seemed - none really looked like scoring.

"It was no big deal," said Adams. "The first 10 minutes the ball was like a magnet to me and I dealt with it. I just got on with it. I don't go in for all this hype any more. I was up for the occasion but I felt I had complete control of my game. I felt relaxed."

All this after learning on his 31st birthday on Friday that Paul Ince was to captain the side. Though the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, can point to the outcome as vindication, it had seemed an insult to England's Euro 96 leader, especially as he was allowed the day before to talk to the press as if he would lead the team, not knowing any different.

"I was disappointed," Adams admitted. "My reaction was that I should be the man but then I always feel that. I told Glenn that I accepted his decision and I know he had his reasons. This game can be pretty wacky at times. I have to remember that 18 months, two years ago, I was lucky to be in the team and was struggling to make the squad."

There was no animosity towards Ince. "He was excellent," Adams acknowledged and joked: "Even if he was off the pitch for half the game. In the dressing- room, at the end he was still bubbling, still bouncing around unlike the rest of us who were shattered. I told him it was because he hadn't played as much as we had." Paul Gascoigne, meanwhile, was telling the bandaged Ince that he looked like a pint of Guinness.

That was once his own drink. Now there is a change in Adams - who took many aback when he declared pre-match that he was feeling "serene" - from the fired-up, face-contorted figure of yore, which is undoubtedly due to a sense of balance and perspective that 14 months of abstinence from alcohol - after admitting his addiction - has brought.

In fact the closest he got to getting wound up over the weekend was when, with fellow recovering alcoholic Paul Merson sitting next to him, he had to wait for the mineral water while the cabin crew on the flight home served up champagne to the rest of the squad.

Some say that Adams has lost an element of the bulldog breed spirit since getting into recovery from his illness. It is, rather, that his strength is simply less externally obvious but more within - and deeper as a result.

The benefit of the change could also be seen in the way, deep into the second half as the tension mounted, he withdrew from a tackle on Alessandro Del Piero where once, unthinkingly, he might have dived in and conceded a penalty. Instead, it was Del Piero who dived and was booked. Once there was a "charge" mentality to the English game. Now it is one of change and the more appropriately thoughtful Adams has shown he can embrace it.

Once, he said, he would have basked in the glow of Saturday's result and the approval of others for several celebratory days. Yesterday, though, was all about savouring soberly the achievement and the prospect of France 98.

"Let the good times roll," he said and these days he needs no artificial stimulant to enjoy them.