Tuesday, 19 June, 2012
Wayne Rooney's header sees England to victory over Ukraine and into Group D's top spot
By Nicholas Veevers
England head into the last eight of EURO 2012 after a hard-fought victory over joint-host nation Ukraine in Donetsk on Tuesday evening.
Wayne Rooney got the all-important goal on his return from suspension with a second-half header and that proved enough to be the difference between the sides to see Roy Hodgson’s men top Group D and seal a clash with Italy in Kiev in the quarter final on Sunday.
The Three Lions were certainly made to work for their three points too, with Ukraine really testing England’s steel throughout the first half and at stages after the break but the team's discipline never let up to seal a crucial and morale-boosting victory.
Ukraine just couldn’t find a way past Joe Hart and his defence, and when they did manage to get close, one particular goal-line clearance from John Terry kept a potential Ukraine equaliser out and no doubt brings the question of goal-line technology back to the fore.
England won’t worry about that though and with seven points on the board from what was a tough set of group fixtures, attentions are now turned to the knock-out stages.
Given the situation of this match, with Ukraine needing nothing but a win in order to give themselves a chance of progression, it was no real surprise that the ‘home’ side made a high-tempo start, pressing England high up the pitch with plenty of energy.
Their first effort of note came from Denys Garmash, included for his first action of the competition, but his 25-yard shot flew clear of Hart’s goal, which gave England a chance to try and catch their breath and take the sting out of their hosts.
England were then forced into some more good defending to keep Ukraine at bay, as Scott Parker made a brave block to prevent Marko Devic’s shot from testing Hart before captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk had an effort covered by Terry.
The best opportunity of the opening stages fell to England though, just shy of the half-hour mark. It started with Terry, whose fine raking pass to the left picked out Ashley Young. The Manchester United winger cut inside before whipping a pacy cross into the area for Rooney, who put a bullet header wide of the post from eight yards out.
A minute later and Ukraine came just as close as a breakaway saw Andriy Yarmolenko break in from the right, only to place a shot straight at Hart who made a simple save.
Yarmolenko again threatened three minutes before half time when his jinking run took him past both Parker and Ashley Cole into the area, but Joleon Lescott took over to make a finely timed interception before the lively winger forward could test Hart.
England had to sharpen up in the second half and they were no doubt told that by Hodgson at the break. Whatever was said clearly brought the desired response too, as within three minutes of the re-start, England were ahead.
A corner was won on the right by James Milner and when Steven Gerrard’s initial flag-kick was worked back out to him, the captain skipped past Yarmolenko before his low centre emerged through a crowd of players to the far post, where Rooney was waiting and this time he made no mistake by nodding home from close range.
Six minutes later and England could have had a second, as Gerrard chased out his own defensive clearance before passing forward into the Ukrainian half. Rooney was onto it in a flash and bore down on goal, but with three defenders in hot pursuit, Yevhen Konoplyanka did well to hold up the striker before the danger was cleared.
Ukraine should have been level on the hour mark though, when a quickly-taken corner saw Yarmolenko cross from the left for Artem Milevskiy, who wastefully flicked a header over the bar from close range.
They came even closer moments after that, when England were really let off the hook as Devic latched onto a flick from Milevskiy and nipped clear of the last defender. His slide-rule shot was half-saved by Hart before looping up and seemingly floating towards goal, but Terry somehow managed to get back and hook clear off the line.
Ukraine appealed for the goal, but a decision wasn’t coming from the officials and England, rightly or wrongly, held on to their lead. In any case, Milevskiy was in an offside position in the build-up to the incident.
It was then Hart’s turn to play his part again as he got a strong hand to a powerful, dipping strike from Konoplyanka. The ball ran loose, but Lescott was quickly on the scene to make a good clearance and help his side into the next stage of the competition.