Euro 2012: Rooney returns to see England into last eight
England 1 (Rooney, 48)
Wayne Rooney scored his first goal at an international tournament for eight years as England beat Ukraine 1-0 to reach the last eight at Euro 2012, but his performance, like his team’s, was laboured.
Back in Roy Hodgson’s starting line-up after missing their first two group games through suspension, the 26-year-old headed in from close range early in the second half to seal England’s safe passafe to the knockout phase.
It sent the Three Lions into a last-eight meeting with Italy in Kiev on Sunday, but Ukraine were desperately unlucky not to have earned at least a draw after Marko Devic had a clear goal wrongly disallowed.
Devic had powered into the box and his looping shot had flown over keeper Joe Hart towards goal. John Terry launched himself into an acrobatic clearance but despite furious appeals no goal was given.
Television replays, however, showed the ball had crossed the line by several inches but had been missed by the additional assistant referee stationed behind the goal. It was a goal-line controversy that echoed Frank Lampard’s disallowed effort for England against Germany at the 2010 World Cup.
England had ridden their luck in a one-sided first-half which Ukraine dominated, only to be denied by either desperate defending or the goalkeeping of Hart.
Rooney’s long-awaited return to the starting line-up failed to galvanise the England attack as Roy Hodgson had hoped for, and the Manchester United striker looked hopelessly short of sharpness. All too often his first touch or timing let him down, a sure sign of the England talisman’s anxiety and general ring-rustiness.
That was best illustrated by the striker’s failure to convert a golden English chance on 28 minutes, with an unmarked Rooney mistiming his jump to glance a header from an Ashley Young cross wide.
Otherwise it was all Ukraine, who had started brightly with Denys Garmash letting fly. Terry then had to be alert shortly afterwards, snuffing out the danger after Andrei Yarmolenko threatened to dart clear into the box. Terry was pressed into action once again when he blocked a shot from Yevgeny Konoplyanka as the onslaught continued.
A goal seemed to certain to come when Artem Milevskiy released Yarmolenko into the area only for Hart to save well from close range. Somehow England had managed to stay level at the break and then three minutes after the restart they got a goal that stunned the hosts.
Steven Gerrard beat Yarmolenko down the right and sent a dangerous cross into the six-yard box. The ball took touches off two Ukrainian defenders before skidding through goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov to Rooney for the simplest of headers.
Yet Ukraine fought back brilliantly, with Milevskiy heading just over the bar before the flashpoint involving Devic and Terry. Shevchenko’s arrival from the bench threatened a revival but there was to be no fairytale ending for the veteran striker.
MAN OF THE MATCH – John Terry (England)
Gerrard was impressive but with England needing a rear-guard action without Terry, who blocked two goalbound efforts and made four crucial interceptions, the scoreline may well have been very different. England’s porous midfield continues to cause them too many problems.