It wasn’t nail-biting, and progression to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 never looked in doubt at any stage during last night’s 1-0 victory over Ukraine. At least there were no nerves here. But one thing it wasn’t, was the comfortable victory I was expecting England to produce when I tipped and backed them at 11/10 prior to kick-off.
Ukraine were resorting to long range efforts that weren’t going on target throughout much of the first half. The exceptions being the 1 or 2 blocks our defence made inside the penalty area, but at 0-0 Ukraine never looked like scoring. I was confident in my fantasy team captain, Joleon Lescott to pick up a clean sheet bonus in this match, put it that way.
The only goal of the game, or at least the only goal given in the game came through a goalkeeping mistake. As I have previously written in my predictions for this tournament, the Ukraine goalkeeper didn’t look comfortable, and finally my thoughts of him making an error for a goal came true. And how nice it was to see Wayne Rooney heading home England’s winner on his return from suspension.
Other than the goal though, Wayne Rooney didn’t look sharp. A few poor touches to give away possession and a lack of threat to the Ukraine goal was notable from the Manchester United striker. His club and country team mate, Danny Welbeck didn’t do much better. Welbeck has started all 3 games for England up front in this tournament now and had just 3 shots on goal. Yes, he may have got a beautifully-flicked winner against Sweden, but he’s not caused weak defences any other problems.
Ashley Young put in a better performance than his previous two games; offering support to Ashley Cole at left back, whilst also providing a couple of crosses from the left wing. The most noteworthy was the one that setup a Wayne Rooney header in the first half which should have found the back of the net. He won us a few free kicks too.
James Milner was ineffectual once again, but Roy Hodgson’s decision to go with him over Theo Walcott may have had something to do with the Arsenal forwards fitness levels having been a doubt over the weekend. Milner’s defensive abilities are generally considered better than Walcott’s, and considering the amount of defending England were forced into, perhaps there is some justification. But does this mean Milner starts the quarter-final? Has he really warranted that?
Steven Gerrard bossed the game from midfield with a man-of-the-match performance. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Denys Garmash had nothing on him. The England captain won 6 tackles, completed 91% of his passes and put a couple of good crosses into the box. His only effort on goal was blocked from outside the area.
Defensively, John Terry was a rock. I wasn’t pleased to hear some England fans calling for him to be dropped, both before the tournament, and after the Sweden game based on a single moment, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic out-sprinted the former England skipper to collect a ball near the corner flag. 4 tackles, 4 interceptions, won 100% of his aerial battles and 2 blocked shots, as well as ‘clearing’ one attempt off the line.
Glen Johnson continues to play out of his skin in this tournament. The right full back limited Yevhen Konoplyanka to one long range effort in the first half, with the Liverpool defender making a couple of tackles and several clearances during the match.
It was disappointing to see England’s victory will be marred by a poor decision by the referee’s assistant not to award a goal that Ukraine scored, even with a fifth official next to the incident. It’s certainly nothing I want to brag about, it is time England got some luck in these tournaments, and it’s two fingers up to Michel Platini and Sepp Blatter who hate England and must have been fuming with the decision. Anyone for goalline technology?
Italy next. They haven’t been playing at their best either, but they still look a bigger threat going forward, particularly comparing them to Sweden and Ukraine whom England weren’t convincing against. Their effectiveness from set pieces is a threat to the England defence after the shambolic defending against Sweden.
And whilst England have relied on goalkeeping howlers to score against Sweden and Ukraine, I’m not confident Gianluigi Buffon is going to be so kind.