Wayne Rooney scored the winner on his return from suspension as England progressed to the quarter finals of Euro 2012 with a 1-0 win over co-hosts Ukraine in Donetsk. Crucially, England advance as group winners following Sweden’s consolatory 2-0 victory over France in Kiev and will now face Italy in the quarter finals rather than the reigning World and European champions Spain.
There was no room in the starting line-up for two of last Friday’s goal-scorers as Roy Hodgson opted to immediately reinstate Wayne Rooney to the team in place of Andy Carroll whilst Theo Walcott was left on the bench as James Milner was preferred on the right of the England midfield. Oleh Blokhin shuffled his pack as Andriy Shevchenko and Andriy Voronin both dropped to the bench in an attempt to reinstall the dynamism of what looked a tired front line during the closing stages of the 2-0 defeat to France.
Knowing a win was needed to progress, Blokhin’s changes certainly made an early impact as Marko Devic and Artem Milevskiy implemented a high pressing strategy that ensured England were not able to settle during the opening 20 minutes. Consequently the Donetsk crowd were galvanised as Blokhin’s team’s persistent rushing play resulted in a nervy start for an England side weary in the knowledge that defeat would lead to their elimination from the tournament. Despite a number of neat interchanges between Ukraine’s offensive trio of Milevskiy, Devic and Denys Harmash, the hosts’ only meaningful chances came from long range efforts as Oleh Gusev and Andriy Yarmolenko looked to test the nerves of Joe Hart in the England goal, though Hart’s clean sheet never looked seriously under threat.
As the 25 minute mark approached the encouraging sound of the home supporters’ jeers could be heard for the first time in the match as England started to enjoy prolonged spells of possession that curbed the exuberance of both the Donetsk crowd and Blokhin’s Ukraine team. The best goal-scoring chance of the half soon followed as Ashley Young delivered a threatening ball across the Ukraine box that found Wayne Rooney unmarked and seemingly certain to head past Pyatov for the game’s opening goal; however Rooney could only exhibit the rustiness of his five week break from competitive football as he headed feebly wide of the target.
England, still smarting from their almost disastrous slow start to the 2nd half versus Sweden, pressed for the opener after the break and an early goal was the reward for their more ambitious approach to the game. Steven Gerrard was instrumental yet again for England as the captain is finally starting to consistently assert the talismanic authority in the attacking third of the pitch that has typified his club career. Gerrard’s quick and dazzling footwork eluded Yehvin Selin, allowing time for the England skipper to smash a crafty low ball across the box which after a series of deflections flew through Pyatov’s clutch towards Rooney, who nodded home to redeem his first half miscue.
England, inevitably perhaps, were far from convincing with their lead as Ukraine reacted well and started to build pressure with a series of corner kicks. It is not the first time during this tournament that England’s midfield have failed to seize possession and build towards a decisive two goal margin as the central duo of Parker and Gerrard, despite their industry, lack the ability to subdue opposition midfields when it is most crucial.
Milevskiy should have headed Ukraine level when he met a Yarmolenko cross unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box but in a similar fashion to Rooney in the 1st half the Ukrainian forward’s header was miscued and flew over the bar to safety, though the Hungarian linesman should have spotted Milevskiy’s offside position. This wasn’t to be the last blunder for the officials. As England began to overcompensate for initially dropping too deep in response to Ukraine’s resurgence their extremely high defensive line was caught out by Milevskiy as he eluded John Terry to put Devic one-on-one with Joe Hart, again Mileskiy’s offside position was not spotted by the assistant referee – though a more baffling decision was to follow. As Hart deflected Devic’s shot the ball appeared to fully cross the line before Terry valiantly cleared to safety. The additional goalmouth assistant referee, who stood yards away from the incident, either failed to notice the goal being scored or was ignored by the referee as England’s lead was preserved in dramatic fashion.
The purpose of the additional assistant referees or what influence they have on refereeing decisions is unclear but what is certain is how they are obviously not the solution to the contentious debate surrounding goal-line decisions. What can be said however is that goal-line technology would have made no difference in making the right refereeing decision in this incident as the linesman failed to acknowledge an offside during the play’s build-up. If anything Devic’s ‘goal’ strengthens the argument of how the officials, like the players, have no technological assistance and perhaps the best way forward is to recognise that mistakes will be made on rare occasions, seeing as, in this instance at least, goal-line technology would not have corrected a bad refereeing decision.
Following the excitement of this passage of play Ukraine started to look resigned to elimination as Ashley Cole went close for England with a shot from inside the box which tested Pyatov before Yehven Konplyanka forced a save from Joe Hart with a stinging long range effort. England avoided any major drama and comfortably defended their lead as the game reached its conclusion.
Elsewhere in Group D Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck a fine finish beyond Hugo Lloris before Sebastian Larsson rounded off the scoring in Kiev as Sweden defeated France to give England1st place in the group. Credit must go to the England players and staff as they have progressed from what was a tricky looking group with a respectable haul of seven points and in doing so restored the ambitions of the nation. England must now look to carry their growing momentum into Sunday’s quarter final versus Italy, who themselves have impressed in a tough group following modest expectations before the start of the tournament.
Quarter Final Draw:
June 21, Warsaw: Czech Republic v. Portugal
June 22, Gdansk: Germany v. Greece
June 23, Donetsk: Spain v. France
June 24, Kiev: England v. Italy