Wayne Rooney returned to fire England to the top of Group D and into the knockout stages of Euro 2012 after a 1-0 victory over Ukraine.
The co-hosts dominated much of the opening half and England were happy to go into the break level despite having the best chance through Rooney, however Roy Hodgson’s side came out with a much more positive attitude in the second half and the Manchester United striker scored the 29th goal of his international career to keep England’s unbeaten record in this competition intact.
England’s goal continued to lead a charmed life throughout the second half though and they were indebted to John Terry for a fantastic goal line clearance in the 62nd minute following Joe Hart’s save from Marko Devic.
After missing the first two group games through suspension Rooney returned to the England starting line-up for their the final game in Group D.
The Manchester United striker was the only change to the side who beat Sweden so James Milner continued on the right hand of midfield despite the impact made by Theo Walcott in England’s 3-2 victory.
Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin was dealt a huge blow before kick-off as captain Andriy Shevchenko was not passed fit to start the game with a knee injury. Devic replaced the influential striker and there were three other changes to the co-hosts’ side as Artem Milevskiy, Denys Garmash and Yaroslav Rakitskiy replaced Andriy Voronin, Serhiy Nazarenko and Taras Mikhalik.
Cheered on by a vociferous home support, Ukraine began the game on the front foot but Hart’s goal was never really under threat as the England defence restricted them to shots from outside the area.
Andriy Yarmolenko had the first real sight of goal in the ninth minute when he received the ball on the edge of the penalty area, however the Dynamo Kiev midfielder had the ball taken off his toe as Terry executed a perfectly timed challenge.
Midway through the half, a mistake by Ashley Young as he attempted to deal with a cross-field pass nearly gifted Ukraine the opening goal.
Oleg Gusev stole the ball away from the Manchester United winger, cut in from the right wing and fired a dangerous shot towards goal but there was too much on the shot and it flew just over the crossbar.
England’s only chance of the first half came in the 28th minute and it fell to Rooney but the striker was unable to do what everyone expected him to do on his return. From the halfway line, Terry fired an inch-perfect pass to Young, who cut onto his right foot and delivered a dangerous cross onto the head of Rooney but he mistimed his jump and the ball dropped harmlessly wide.
Moments later Hart was called into action as Milevskiy found some room 25 yards out. He played a neat pass into the path of Yarmolenko who had escaped the attentions of Ashley Cole. The winger’s curling shot was on target but it was easy for Hart who made the save.
The half-time break gave England a chance to regroup and within three minutes of the restart they were ahead – and it was Rooney who came to the rescue.
A Steven Gerrard corner was cleared only as far as Glen Johnson, who returned the ball to his captain who in turn delivered a dangerous ball across the six-yard box. The ball took two deflections before squirming through Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov’s hands and Rooney had the simple task of heading in from a yard out.
England’s goal only served to inspire the Ukrainians and they had two fantastic chances in the space of two minutes on the hour mark. The first came from a quick corner from the left but Milevskiy was unable to keep his header down from Yarmolenko’s cross despite getting in front of Joleon Lescott.
A minute later a piece of heroic defending from Terry kept England ahead as his acrobatic clearance denied Devic, although replays appeared to show the ball had actually crossed the line.
A long ball out of defence found Milevskiy, who slid a pass into Devic but his shot was well saved by Hart. However, the ball ballooned up towards the goal but Terry was able to track back and make the goal-line clearance.
Ukraine continued to push for the equaliser and they were denied by the Manchester City duo of Hart and Lescott 10 minutes later.
Yevhen Konoplyanka unleashed a powerful shot from just outside the area that Hart could only parry away, but before another Ukraine player could get onto the loose ball Lescott had tidied up for his goalkeeper and averted the danger.
England finished the game playing on the counterattack but spent the majority of the final 10 minutes in their own half as Ukraine threw everything they had at their opponents.
Even the introduction of Shevchenko couldn’t inspire the co-hosts and their elimination was confirmed as England set up a quarter-final clash with Italy.
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