Euro 2012: Criticism drives England skipper Gerrard
Steven Gerrard believes England have defied their many critics after securing top spot in Group D with a 1-0 defeat of Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine.
Gerrard delivered the cross as the returning Wayne Rooney headed home from point-blank range for the winner just after half-time and he feels an unheralded squad can continue to improve. England now face Italy in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
He said: “It was a difficult group and the idea was to try and win it. No-one believed in us at the start but we’re gaining momentum at the right time.
“I don’t think the performance was fantastic, but we stuck together, got the job done and won 1-0 against a good team.
“When you get criticised it’s not nice and you have to react by playing better and that’s what we did.”
Gerrard brushed aside suggestions England would be overjoyed at playing Italy instead of world and European champions Spain. “Italy are next, they’ve got match-winners and we have to give them respect,” he added.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart was beaten once in the match, when Marko Devic’s shot apparently crossed the line before being acrobatically hooked clear by defender John Terry.
Manager Roy Hodgson admitted his side had a slice of fortune. “This was an away game with a capital ‘A’: there were 60,000 people in and only 4,000 brave England fans. When we needed a bit of luck, when the ball may have crossed the line, we got a bit of luck and went on to win the match.”
Elsewhere, France qualified for the knockout stages despite losing their final Group D match 2-0 to already eliminated Sweden. A brilliant bicycle kick by Sweden’s inspirational captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 54th minute gave them the lead with the outstanding Sebastian Larsson adding a second in the final minute.
The French, who also saw their 23-match unbeaten run under manager Laurent Blanc ended, progress in second place in the group after England and will play champions Spain in the last eight.
“We came upon a team that was far stronger than us,” admitted midfielder Yann M’Vila. “We are going to play Spain, the world and defending champions. It is up to us to show another side to our game and to prove that we can go far in this competition.”