England marched through to a Quarter Final meeting with old foes Italy following a tight 1-0 victory over Ukraine which coupled with Sweden’s 2-0 defeat of France saw Roy Hodgson’s boys top the group. The only goal came from the bonce of Wayne Rooney who ended his International tournament drought stretching back to 2004, whilst Ukraine were left feeling like they’d just been victims of a mugging as one of their goals was ruled out as the umpteenth official didn’t believe the ball had crossed the line – when it did.
Roy Hodgson made one change from the side that defeated Sweden 3-2 on the Friday previous by bringing back Wayne Rooney after his suspension had finished, as suspected he replaced Andy Carroll in attack who can feel a bit unlucky after opening the scoring against the Swedes. Theo Walcott would have to be content with a place on the bench following his Kiev heroics whilst James Milner continued on the right side of midfield.
Ukraine were dealt a blow when it was confirmed that Andriy Shevchenko would be starting from the bench as coach Oleg Blokhin rated his fitness at just 50/50 before the game – he was replaced by Artem Milevskiy. Former Liverpool flop Andriy Voronin was also dropped from the side as the dangerous Marko Devic came into replace him for a new look front two for the hosts. The other two changes that completed the four were Yaroslav Rakitskiy coming in for Taras Mykhalyk at the heart of defence, whilst Denys Garmash started in an attacking midfield role instead of Serhiy Nazarenko who was also forced to start the game on the bench.
The game started very slowly as you may expect, Ukraine needed to win to stand any chance of going through whilst a draw would suit an England side who started largely on the back foot whilst being very well organised as we’ve come to expect from Roy Hodgson’s teams. With 11 minutes gone England showed the first signs of some invention going forward when Ashley Cole was released following some neat passing at the back, however the Chelsea man who was now the country’s most capped tournament player couldn’t find a cross to match the previous work and as a result Pyatov was on hand to claim comfortably.
Ukraine then began to press home their early dominance with some lacklustre England defending allowing Devic to get a shot away just outside the box that was closed down excellently by Scott Parker inside the box. Minutes later and the lively Konoplyanka cut inside and curled a shot that was expertly blocked by John Terry before the captain Tymoshchuk blazed teh rebound high over Joe Harts crossbar, much to England’s relief. Ashley Young then lost the ball cheaply which allowed Gusev to push forward and unleash a shot that went over the bar once more – improving upon Ukraine’s record of being the least accurate shooters in the tournament.
England then won a free kick on the right hand side and unsurprisingly it saw England test the opposition defence for the first time in the encounter. Steven Gerrard whipped an excellent ball into the danger zone that saw Rooney just miss it before Pyatov got an important touch which meant it passed John Terry who would have been on hand to stick it into an empty net.
The finest chance of the first half though fell to Wayne Rooney – following a good cross field ball from Terry to Ashley Young, the England winger who has been under fire for recent performances curled in a fantastic ball towards the back post which found team mate Rooney, however he just didn’t jump high enough and saw his glancing header go agonisingly wide of the post. A chance that Rooney may have scored had he not been banned for the previous two games in the tournament.
Ukraine’s biggest talent, Yarmolenko was then fed in just outside the box, however Joe Hart was parallel to the shot and saved it well to keep the scores level. The game now had a more attacking feel with England beginning to get on top with several good crosses and a Scott Parker shot from 40 yards that went wide of the post to show for it. Yarmolenko then threatened once more as he weaved his way through the England defence before Lescott got a toe in to clear the ball out for a corner – expert skill from the Ukrainian who has become one of the surprise stars of the tournament.
That ended a very ragged first half where neither side really pressed home their dominance with very little in terms of genuine quality. England started by knocking the ball around, however it turned more basic when the Ukrainians frustrated Gerrard & co. with the ball often being lumped forwards to Welbeck who simply isn’t big enough for that sort of play. If I’m honest it was the hosts that deserved to lead, they’d been far more attacking and looked on the whole the better outfit.
The second half began a lot more positively from England and within minutes we were ahead thanks to Wayne Rooney heading in from close range from yet another superb Steven Gerrard ball across the danger area. There was no question as to whether Rooney was offside or not, furthermore this was a personal milestone for Wazza whose goal saw him score in a major tournament for the first time in eight years. As it stood in Group D, England would be going through top of the group whilst France would finish second.
Ukraine were nearly back in the game instantly but the unmarked Milevskiy headed the ball over the bar from point blank range after a superb Yarmolenko cross into the box – karma in some sense as replays revealed that Milevskiy was in fact offside.
Minutes later though and we had the real talking point of the game and perhaps the tournament itself – Devic got away from Terry before turning and hitting a low shot at Joe Hart that was still looping into the net despite the best efforts of the ‘keeper. At the last possible moment Terry got back onto the line and hacked the ball clear with an astonishing diving clearance, the referee’s assistant’s assistant deemed the ball hadn’t crossed the line – replays however showed that it did. In one sense it was an appalling decision, in another it let England off the hook and in another it was karma as Devic was offside in the first place. However you feel about that isolated incident it is surely proof that goal line technology is needed and that the extra officials are a waste of time and money.
England though wanted to build on their lead and nearly did so when Pyatov palmed a shot away to Ashley Cole who in turn hammered a low strike goalwards that Pyatov once again got across to stop to deny Cole his first ever International goal on a night where it would have meant so much. Theo Walcott & Shevchenko were then thrust into the fray for the two sides as the pair of players that could do obvious damage late on in the game.
Ukraine continued to press forward and Konoplyanka hit a dipping shot that nearly caught Hart out, however the City goalkeeper threw his left hand out just in time to keep the ball out much to the nation’s relief. That was the last real chance for either side with The Ox wasting a good opportunity when brought on – failing to play the ball to Walcott who would have been clean through. Andy Carroll was also introduced late on and he gave a very good account of himself with several impressive touches and flicks that came close to producing another goal.
It was yet another organised and professional from England and a result that sees Roy Hodgson dubbed as having, “The Midas Touch.” Whatever you feel about these performances, this phrase should mean something to you, “It’s the result that people remember, not the performance”, and on that basis, Hodgson has been one of the best appointments The FA has made in recent history.
Special mentions should go to John Terry & Joleon Lescott, both of whom were immense in shepherding the England back line, whilst Ashley Cole also enjoyed yet another consistent performance – something we’ve come to expect from him. In the middle of the park though Steven Gerrard & Scott Parker were something else, they complimented eachother superbly and as a result both put in Man of The Match performances.
We now face a tough Quarter Final against Italy on Sunday evening; however another resolute defensive display and the usual precision going forwards should see us through to face either Germany or Greece in the Semi Finals. Come on England!