Napoleon supposedly once said: “I have plenty of clever generals, give me one lucky one”. Could it be that in Roy Hodgson the FA have hit upon a lucky manager?
The history books will tell future generations that this game was won thanks to a Wayne Rooney goal two minutes into the second half, but a goal-line clearance by John Terry 16 minutes later preserved that lead and stopped a resurgent Ukraine getting a foothold in the game. Another thing that the history books won’t tell you is that despite Terry’s heroic efforts, the ball actually crossed the line. A swing for Frank Lampard’s South African roundabout perhaps?
Either way it means Hodgson can lay to rest another of England’s curses in his short time in the hot seat. To a first competitive win against Sweden can now be added the first victory against tournament hosts in five attempts since England dispatched the Swiss in the 1954 World Cup. France losing against Sweden in the group’s other game means Hodgson’s side finish top, have an extra day’s rest and avoid Spain in the quarter finals, but with Italy and (possibly) Germany blocking the way to the final it’s an advantage with a sucker punch.
That’s for the weekend. For now the England players can relax in the knowledge that they have surpassed most people’s hopes. Ah, yes. It’s funny how the low pre-tournament expectations have evaporated. Back before the team pitched up in Poland the widely held opinion was that their trip would be a short one. Yet here, at half time with England needing only a draw against Ukraine, the win-chasing tournament co-hosts, Twitter seemed convinced the team was heading down a familiar, disappointing path.
The first 45 minutes weren’t great from England’s point of view but despite being nervous at times they had absorbed all that their opponents threw at them and should have been a goal to the good. The chance had fallen to Wayne Rooney, the man of the moment, back in the starting line-up after a two game ban. Ashley Young found his Manchester United team mate with an inch-perfect cross, but Rooney mistimed his header and it went wide. “Carroll wouldn’t have missed” Twitter confidently proclaimed.
Maybe he wouldn’t but when Rooney got the chance to atone for his mistake just minutes into the second half he didn’t miss either. The goal once again sprang from the boot of captain Steven Gerrard. His cross from the right was deflected slightly but importantly by (more Hodgson luck) taking it beyond Andriy Pyatov in the Ukraine goal and Rooney was on hand at the far post to nod home what will surely be a contender for the simplest goal of his career.
Nerves settled and with Ukraine searching for an equaliser to set them on the road to the three points they needed to qualify, Hodgson’s team settled back into their new-found defensive discipline. His team might not be the best with the ball, but they are one of the best without it. Terry’s exertions to clear Marko Devic’s shot were evidence of that as was Joleon Lescott clearance after Joe Hart’s excellent save from Yevhen Konoplianka’s on 73 minutes.
One-nil to England is becoming a familiar refrain and in Hodgson they appear to have a coach who understands the requirements of tournament football. Just as importantly they appear to have a coach who gets the rub of the green.
Subs: Green, Kelly, Walcott, Henderson, Carroll, Baines, Jones, Jagielka, Downing, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Defoe, Butland.
Ukraine (4-3-1-2): Pyatov; Gusev, Khacheridi, Selin, Rakitskiy; Yarmolenko, Tymoschuk, Konoplianka; Garmash; Devic (Shevchenko 69), Milevskiy (Butko 78)
Subs: Koval, Kucher, Shevchenko, Aliev, Voronin, Shevchuk, Rotan, Seleznyov, Mykhalyk, Nazarenko, , Goryainov.
Did you know… Steven Gerrard made his England debut against Ukraine 12 years ago.
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