x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Euro 2012: England 1 Ukraine 0

Wayne Rooney scored his first goal in a major international championship in eight years as England finished top of Group D to set up a last-eight encounter with Italy.

Wayne Rooney scored his first goal of the European Championship against Ukraine last night. It was the England striker's first match of the tournament after serving a two-match suspension. Nigel Roddis / Reuters
Wayne Rooney scored his first goal of the European Championship against Ukraine last night. It was the England striker's first match of the tournament after serving a two-match suspension. Nigel Roddis / Reuters

DONETSK, UKRAINE // They may have been warned in apocalyptic terms to stay away from Ukraine before Euro 2012 started, but two weeks later England's supporters were chanting delightedly last night: "We're not going home."

The three players who owed the most to Roy Hodgson, the new England manager, combined to extend the holiday of their fans by sending a previously unfancied team through to the quarter-finals, where they will face Italy on Sunday. A nation is starting to expect.

Over the course of this tournament, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard have variously been referred to as "Pele" and "the king" respectively. Yet some have argued the former is lucky to be part of the squad, while the latter is fortunate to have the captain's armband.

Both played their role in the opening goal, which Rooney scored, to repay their manager's faith in them.

Rooney made a decisive contribution by scoring the opener, but he was someway short of his best.

He looked laboured when he made his first break in the seventh minute. Three minutes later he had an air-shot when trying to control the ball.

He headed wide with the sort of free-header that Andy Carroll, who played so well against Sweden and whose place Rooney had assumed, would have feasted on.

But he could not miss when the next opportunity came his way, heading in from a yard out at the start of the second half.

All the England players raced to Gerrard, the captain whose industry set up the goal, but Rooney made a beeline for the bench.

He owed Hodgson after the manager stuck by him despite suspension keeping him out of the first two games.

Before last night it had been almost eight years to the day since Rooney last scored a goal at a major championship.

Hodgson was also aided by a third player who owes his boss much.

John Terry came out on the right side of controversy for once, when cleared off the line in the second half.

However, there was heavy suspicion England got lucky with the decision of the goal-line official. Replays suggested it was over.

The men in white may suggest they were owed a call like that, however, given the overruled goal scored by Terry's Chelsea teammate, Frank Lampard at the World Cup two year's ago. While their talisman, Rooney, was making his return, England will have been relieved when they saw the absence of Ukraine's own version on the starting team sheet.

The co-hosts were forced to start without their only player of any international renown, Andriy Shevchenko, after he failed to recover from a knee injury sustained against France.

There are two Ballon d'Or winners involved with this Ukraine squad - Shevchenko and Oleg Blokhin, the manager - but this is not a nation necessarily used to big stars. Few of the current vintage are known beyond the borders of Europe's second largest country. Blokhin seems to prefer it that way, and his little heralded charges had the better of the well-healed Premier League stars in opposition for most of the first phase.

Ukraine's shooting accuracy is the lowest of any team since the start of Euro 2012, and England were lucky their hosts were in profligate mood again at the start. They had most of the ball, but did little decisive with it.

Andriy Yarmolenko hinted at being a player of substance with the sort of jinking run Lionel Messi would have been proud of just before half time. The Russian-born Dynamo Kiev forward has been deemed the future of Ukraine football by Shevchenko, the man who may now represent its immediate past.

Shevchenko did enter the fray in the 70th minute, just after Artem Milevskiy's shot had been half blocked by Joe Hart in England's goal, then cleared by Terry.

Somehow, England have muddled through, to the extent they even topped their group. They are not going home.

pradley@thenational.ae

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