KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- England are coming home to Wembley next Wednesday in the Euro 2020 semi-finals after thrashing shell-shocked 4-0 Ukraine in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
This quarter-final was the only ‘away day’ for England after playing in front of their own fans for all of their three group matches and the notable victory over Germany in the round of 16. They have kept clean sheets in all five matches.
Not that England’s performance was perfect. They were guilty of some sloppy and careless passing but a dispirited and battle-battered Ukraine were not good enough to capitalise.
The clash with Denmark will be England’s first appearance in the semi-finals of the European Championship since the shootout defeat by the Germans in 1996. Winners will face Italy or Spain who also meet at Wembley in their own semi-final showdown on Tuesday.
Manager Gareth Southgate recalled Mason Mount in midfield into a more orthodox 4-3-3 formation to face Ukraine after the tactical shuffling which was the foundation for the defeat of Germany.
One notable change was the choice of Jadon Sancho for his first appearance of the finals.
The winger, who has just agreed to move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United for £73m, took over from Arsenal’s Bukayo Sako who suffered a minor injury in training for England’s first match away from Fortress Wembley.
The few thousand foreign-based England able to make it to Rome were cheering as early as the fourth minute.
Kane, heavily criticised after his opening two laboured performances in the tournament, had opened his tally in the round of 16 victory over Germany and followed up by jabbing home a superbly-judged foourth-minute assist from Raheem Sterling.
That goal did not intially disturb Ukraine’s cautious game plan, relying on counter-attacks. In the 16th minute a misjudged pass by Kyle Walker was seized on by Roman Yaremchuk but his fierce low drive was beaten away for a corner by keeper Jordan Pickford.
England returned to the attack with Sterling, out on the left wing, a perpetual nuisance for Ukraine. One of a series of fouls provided England with a free kick from Luke Shaw which was headed over the bar by Kane.
Shaw has emerged as one of England’s key players and he played a crucial role in the two early second-half goals which killed the tie.
In the 46th minute the Manchester United leftback delivered a free kick which Maguire headed home. Then, five minutes later, Shaw collected a pass from Sterling and crossed square for Kane to head powerfully into goal between goalkeeper Heorhiy Bushchan’s legs.
Bushchan was beaten again in the 63rd minute, this time by newly-arrived substitute Jordan Henderson. The Liverpool skipper had needed to wait 62 appearances for his own first international goal.
Southgate took advantage of the moment to use his full complement of five substitutes which meant Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips could be saved from the accident of a second tournament yellow card which would have ruled them out of the final.
Kane was also rewarded for his efforts with an early exit and well-deserved rest ahead of more, and more difficult, challenges ahead.
Gareth Southgate, England manager: “We didn’t want to take a backward step. We wanted to really grasp the opportunity rather than hope we might win or let fate have a chance to play its part. I thought the players were decisive and ruthless all night.”
Harry Kane, England forward: “It’s about peaking at the right time. A fantastic night; we keep going game after game. We were favourites to win this game – a lot of pressure and expectation and to perform as we did was top-drawer. Another clean sheet and four goals: it was a perfect night for us.”
Harry Maguire, England defender: “It’s a great feeling – back-to-back semi-finals at a major tournament is a great achievement. I don’t want to be a party pooper but we don’t stop here. We’ve got another big game coming up and we want to go further this time.”
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine coach: “We’ve had a great tournament. The team had their own style; they refused to abandon their way of playing, irrespective of the results and opposition. From that point of view, the team have played good football. The guys did everything they could, and I want to thank them for that today.”
Andriy Yarmolenko, Ukraine forward: “We are a great team with a great group of people. Nothing can break us. We know what helps us with our game, and we know how we can play. Despite the result, despite losing 4-0 today, I am proud to be part of this team. Yes, today we lost, but we should look at who we have lost to. In my opinion, we have lost to one of the best teams in the world.”
Ukraine: Bushchan – Zabarnyi, Kryvtsov (Tsygankov 35), Matviyenko – Karavaev, Sydorchuk (Makarenko 64), Shaparenko, Zinchenko, Mykolenko – Yarmolenko, Yaremchuk.
England: Pickford – Walker, Maguire, Stones, Shaw (Trippier 65) – Rice (Henderson 57), Phillips (Bellingham 65), Mount – Sancho, Kane (Calvert-Lewin 73), Sterling (Rashford 65).
Referee: Brych (Ger).