England top Group D after eventful night
England progressed to the quarter-finals after Wayne Rooney scored on his international comeback but it was an unconvincing and frankly fortunate 1-0 win over Ukraine in Donetsk.
Roared on by a boisterous home crowd, Ukraine made an excellent start and dominated possession while looking to threaten down the flanks. When Rooney headed a sitter wide on 27 minutes England were clearly second-best but it still represented the best chance of the half. The hosts had controlled the first period with winger Andriy Yarmalenko particularly impressive; Roy Hodgson was surely relieved when his side made it to the halfway point all square.
England took the lead immediately after the re-start with a combination of good play from Steven Gerrard and a catalogue of errors from the home side. The Liverpool man tricked his stumbling marker before whipping a ball into the goalmouth, which Ukraine failed to clear. It slipped under the goalkeeper and bounced for Rooney to head home from point blank range.
The hosts response to falling behind was good and Oleg Blokhin’s side forced a series of corners. England’s defence however stood up well under the pressure and Rooney almost managed to break after one corner was cleared.
On the hour mark the game suddenly burst into life. First Artem Milevsky headed a great chance for the home side over from six yards.
Then came serious controversy as his strike partner Devic got in behind the English defence and shot low at Joe Hart. The shot looped up off the keeper and was cleared from under the crossbar by a retreating John Terry, with replays showing the ball had crossed the line. It was a real let-off for England especially with the extra official failing to react while in a perfect position just yards away.
At the other end Ashley Cole then almost compounded the injustice as his volley was cleared off the line.
Blokhin sent on veteran Andriy Shevchenko, a non-starter due to an injury problem, as Ukraine forced more corners with England looking to defend their lead. No further chances emerged however and Hodgson’s boys saw the game out.
Further good fortune for Rooney and co came in the form of the other Group D result as France’s 2-0 defeat to Sweden means that England will avoid holders Spain in the last eight.
The French succumbed to two second-half goals after dominating the first period. The first 45 minutes were a similar story to the England-Ukraine game with one side making all the running but the other wasting the best chance to take the lead. France controlled the entire half but a tight Swedish defence reduced them to probing from outside the area and all their efforts were from range. At the other end the Swedes struck the post on 11 minutes when Ola Toivonen got in after sloppy control by Phillippe Mexes. The midfielder struck the post after running wide of Hugo Lloris in the French goal.
Sweden improved dramatically after the break and took the lead through talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The AC Milan forward scored a contender for goal of the tournament with sweetly struck and acrobatic first-time volley.
The goal stunned Laurent Blanc’s side and the game turned as Sweden kept coming forward looking to kill them off.
With the French defence deteriorating they were lucky not to concede more but Sweden were also leaving gaps at the back and it took two good saves from Anders Isaksson to deny Yann M’Vila and then Jeremy Menez.
A goal looked likely at either end but it didn’t materialise until stoppage time, when Seb Larsson smashed in a rebound after his side struck the bar. Despite being already out prior to kick-off, Sweden deserved the second goal and the win for their performance.
France meanwhile played poorly overall and their players looked understandably anxious as they sought the news from the other game at the final whistle. They creep through despite defeat and will now take their shaky looking defence to face the Spanish while England meet Group C runners-up Italy.