English striker Wayne Rooney returned from a two-game suspension and scored the game’s lone goal as England defeated Ukraine 1-0 in a controversial match at Donbass Arena in Donetsk to clinch the first spot in Group D and a ticket to the European Championship quarter-finals.
The match could have finished with a different result, but a goal by Ukraine's Artem Milevskiy was not awarded by the referee.
The final group stage match started with very discouraging news for Ukraine after captain and hometown hero Andriy Shevchenko could not join the starting lineup due to an injury on his left knee.
The co-hosts were missing their best player and spark on the field, but still had the support of thousands of fans, who provided a much needed boost.
And the pre-match bad news for Ukraine did not stop there.
English forward Rooney, considered one of the best strikers in the world, made his Euro debut after a two-game suspension right on time for the final game in the group.
Despite missing Shevchenko, the Ukrainian showed they are more than a lucky group following one player. Oleh Blokhin’s team surprised many (including England’s last line) with an aggressive play that forced their opponents to retreat during the first 20 minutes of the game.
Oleg Gusev almost puts Ukraine ahead after coming from the right side and sending a bullet that missed the target by inches.
However, the Englishmen found their rhythm halfway through the first half, bringing their game to Ukraine with dangerous long crosses that put the co-host’s defence to test.
All of a sudden, either team could take the match.
The intensity grew as the match went on, with England captain Steven Gerrard taking advantage of a stopped ball to connect with forwards and create attacking plays. Another cross almost opened the score for the English side.
Defenceman John Terry found Ashley Young on the left, who sent a cross to the area but Rooney’s header went wide. Despite clear opportunities from both teams, the first half ended with no goals.
England‘s success with the air ball continued right from the beginning of the second half and the goal drought wouldn’t last long.
The Gerrard-Rooney connection finally found the net in the 48th minute.
The captain totally fooled his defender on the right side and sent a low cross that sneaked through Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov and right into Rooney, who easily scored with a header over the line.
The goal forced Ukraine to urgently send the whole group to look for the equalizer. And they found it, only the goal was not validated.
In the 61st minute, forward Milevskiy found himself one-on-one against England keeper Joe Hart, who blocked the striker’s shot; the ball kept its course to the net until Terry cleared it from the goal line. However, the ball was already past the line.
Nobody saw it (including the referee assigned only to cover the goal line) and the game continued.
Ukraine’s desperate rush in attack gave the team control of the ball, but compromised on defence, with Pyatov saving his team several times.
With the scoreboard and time against them, coach Blokhin decided to please an entire nation and send his captain to the field.
Too little, too late.
Shevchenko entered the game in the 70th minute and couldn’t crack the English defence. The veteran is a hero, but not a superhero.
A more organized team and a controversial play ended Ukraine’s Euro run. Nevertheless, 'Sheva' and his team went down fighting.
What this result means
- Rooney scores in his return and England clinches the first place in Group D. Roy Hodgson’s squad will face Italy in the quarter-finals, while France, which fell to Sweden 2-0 on Tuesday, is set to play Spain.
The winning goal
- Rooney seemed a little rusty and missed a couple of clear chances in the first minutes of the game. But a star like the 26-year-old forward is always a constant threat in attack and he proved the fact against Ukraine. Look for Rooney to be more deadly against Italy.
Man of the match
- Steven Gerrard dominated the middle of the field and was the leader of an English team in a hard-fought match. The captain was a problem for the Ukrainian defence and one of his many dangerous crosses ended up being the winning goal.
The English perspective
"To be successful you need a bit of luck. Two years ago we were unlucky with Frank Lampard and we had to pack our bags." — Captain Steven Gerrard.
The Ukrainian perspective
- "I was sad because the ball was in the goal by one meter." — Coach Oleg Blokhin.