Wayne Rooney lived up to all the headlines by grabbing the winner in Donetsk as England defeated Ukraine to advance to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 as Group D winners after France slipped up losing 2-0 to already eliminated Sweden.
It was far from comfortable viewing for England fans though as the co-hosts went down fighting with England (for the first time since the 1966 World Cup Final) incredibly for once benefiting from a contentious goal-line decision in the final third of the game.
Rooney expectedly came into the starting line-up at the expense of Andy Carroll in the only change made by Roy Hodgson from the side that defeated Sweden. Ukraine to their credit came out of the blocks like a caged animal looking bright from the get-go.
Denys Garmash and Yaroslav Rakitskiy saw efforts go over Joe Hart’s bar early on as England expectandly started the game on the back-foot, testing the waters not wanting to risk getting caught out early on.
Ashley Young was caught out after 20 minutes as he misjudged a long ball from Ukraine presenting Oleg Gusev with a chance to run at goal but thankfully the left-sided player’s shot went narrowly over the bar much to the Hodgson’s relief.
It took 28 minutes for England to have their first attempt on goal. A great cross-field pass by John Terry picked out Young on the left. A trademark cross from the winger found Rooney all alone at the far-post who headed wide from close range when it seemed easier to miss.
Whether it was rustiness or not, England should have been ahead and Ukraine almost made them pay for that as Andriy Yarmolenko ended a flowing move seeing a shot inside the area saved by Joe Hart with the ball possibly taking a nick of Ashley Cole.
Down the other end Young was beginning to come more into the game with the wideman beating his marker out wide before coming in only to see a shot from 26 yards out deflected over after a good block from Yevhen Khacheridi.
Despite a good defensive performance from England, a major improvement was needed after the break. Three minutes into the second-half England grabbed the lead and the goal they wanted albeit thanks to a big dollop of help from Ukraine.
After a James Milner corner was cleared, Steven Gerrard did well to fool Yarmolenko out wide whipping in a cross into the box. The cross took two deflections and somehow wasn’t gathered by goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov leaving Rooney the simpliest of headers to score.
Shortly after that the lead could have been doubled but Rooney didn’t quite have the legs to brush of a defender after being picked out brilliantly by Gerrard with the move ending with Milner seeing a shot deflected away from goal.
Ukraine though kept on pushing. Artem Milevskiy should have scored from three yards but somehow headed over before the talking point of the game occurred when Devic latched onto a flick and saw his shot partially saved by Joe Hart inside the area.
The ball looped in towards goal and appeared to have crossed the line before Terry hacked the ball clear. The ball was defiantly over the line but somehow the goal-line official failed to award the goal, despite being only three yards away!
Andrei Shevchenko came on shortly afterwards but couldn’t inspire his side one last time with their only real chance coming when Hart couldn’t hold onto a 30-yard shot from Yevhen Konoplyanka with Joleon Lescott clearing the rebound away to safety.
England now face Italy in Kiev on Sunday in the last of the Euro 2012 quarterfinals, a side they haven’t defeated since 1997. They will need to play with the same spirit if they are to stand a chance against Cesare Prandell’s talented side.
By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87