KEIR RADNEDGE in DONETSK
— Football, said Roy Hodgson on the eve of England’s clash with co-hosts Ukraine at Euro 2012, is all about dreams. Realistically that meant reaching the quarter-finals in the case of both teams: England because they were recovering from the post-Capello confusion, Ukraine because that would be one-up on co-hosts Poland who had already slipped out.
In the end England finished top of the group and will now face Italy in the quarter-finals while France, beaten 2-0 by Sweden and thus runners-up, will play world and European champions Italy.
Three minutes into the second half in Donetsk Wayne Rooney marked his first appearance in the finals with a close-range headed goal after Steven Gerrard’s right-wing cross had been misjudged by keeper Andriy Pyatov. That victory, allied to the French defeat, was enough.
Even a draw would not have been enough for out-of-luck Ukraine, superbly as they played for much of the first half. They had to win. Anything else and the remaining co-hosts would exit the finals – as they did.
England were strengthened by the return of Rooney after his two-game suspenson; Ukraine were supposedly weakened by the knee injuy which kept veteran striker and talisman Andriy Shevchenko on the subs’ bench. Not that they appeared weakened: they began with fire, movement and pace and England were panting to keep up.
Andriy Yarmolenko was too slow to pounce when presented with space on the edge of the penalty box, Marko Devic had a drive blocked by Scott Parker and Oleh Gusev capitaised on a nervy misjudgment from Ashley Young to dash in from the right and graze the top of the crossbar with his shot.
Nearly half an hour had gone before England manufactured a chance: a good one, too. Young crossed from the left and Rooney, unmarked and clear atthe far post, glanced his header wide. It was as if the ball had come on to him faster than he expected, the mark perhaps of a player short of match sharpness.
A half chance also fell to John Terry before Ukraine pulled themselves back together. Yarmolenko had a shot saved by Joe Hart and then wriggled through the penalty box only for Joleon Lescott to whip the ball off his toes for a corner.
England had not beaten the hosts in a tournament finals since defeating Switzerland in the 1954 World Cup. Now they repeated that moment in history after the lone goal three minutes after the interval. The outstanding Gerrard beat a defender on the right and crossed. The ball was deflected by one defender, misjudged by keeper Andriy Pyatov and headed in from close range by Rooney: his 29th international goal.
Minutes later the news came through from Kyiv that France had gone a goal down to Sweden for whom Zlatan Ibrahimovic had converted a Seb Larsson cross.
Ukraine should have been level in the 61st minute. Devic broke away through the centre. His shot was deflected up into the air by Hart but was falling over the goal-line as John Terry hooked it back into play. TV replays showed that the ball was over the line but referee Viktor Kassai waved play on because his linesman and goal-line assistant signalled nothing.
Oleg Blokhin brought on veteran Andriy Shevchenko but it was too little and too late. Their luck was out – and England’s joy was complete with news from Kyiv that France had lost decisively.
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