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Despite being much the better side on the night, a combination of profligate finishing and a disallowed goal saw Ukraine lose to England 1-0 in Donetsk, a loss that knocked the co-hosts out of the competition, with the Three Lions profiteering from France's loss at the hands of Sweden in the other game to top Group D. It was Wayne Rooney's goal that handed them all three points, the talismanic striker making an immediate impact after returning to Roy Hodgson's side by pouncing on a loose ball three minutes after the interval to confirm England's progress to the knockout rounds.
Ukraine on the other hand left the competition with a bitter taste in their mouths, with players and fans alike expected to blame the refereeing blunder for their early exit from the tournament.
Wayne Rooney made his much-awaited return to action for the Three Lions, renewing his partnership with fellow Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck in England's attack. Another Red Devil in Ashley Young was played out on the left flank, while Roy Hodgson continued to prefer the stability that James Milner provided on the right flank over the dynamism of the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Stewart Downing. Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker were odds-on to start in tandem in the centre of midfield and did get the nod, with the former's club teammate Glen Johnson playing on the right side of defence. John Terry was and Joleon Lescott were the obvious choices at centre-half, with Ashley Cole making his 20th appearance for the Three Lions in tournament football at left-back, the highest for any Englishman in history.
The big news for the co-hosts was that vetaran striker Andriy Shevchenko missed out with a knee problem, with Artem Milevskiy and Marko Devic, both second half substitutes in Ukraine's previous encounter against France, coming into the side to form the strike partnership in place of the former AC Milan and Chelsea frontman and his missing partner Andriy Voronin. Yevgen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko continued to provide the width for Oleg Blokhin's side going forward, with Denys Harmash and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk holding fort in the centre of midfield. There was one change made to the Ukrainian backline, with Yaroslav Rakitskiy coming into the starting eleven to partner Evgeniy Hacherydy in the heart of the defence. Yevhen Selin and Oleh Gusev flanked the duo, with Shakhtar Donetsk custodian Andriy Pyatov continuing in goal.
Encouraged by a vociferous home crowd at the Donbass Arena, Ukraine started the game rather brightly, closing down England very early and maintaining large spells of possession. They came close to the opener as well, with Harmash pulling the trigger from range on six minutes and seeing his effort fly narrowly past Hart's goal. The England backline was looking rather fragile in the opening stages, with Ukraine's quick, counter-attacking play repeatedly cutting them open at an alarming frequency. Yarmolenko and Devic both had great chances to test Joe Hart soon afterwards, but spurning their opportunities to put Ukraine ahead in this must-win game for them.
The returning Rooney was another man looking a bit rusty on the field, with the striker's touch in front of goal evidently missing two minutes before the half hour mark when he glanced a header from close range horribly wide of the target when left unmarked inside the area from Young's delivery.
The game was really opening up as the half wore on, with Yarmolenko continuing to terrorise Cole on England's left flank, jinking inside the Chelsea fullback before driving a low shot from the edge of the box that Hart did well to collect down to his right.
At the other end, England's best chances were coming unsurprisingly from crosses that were played into the area, with Terry on this occasion turning his header off target after running onto Gerrard's excellent delivery from a corner. They did start maintaining a bit more of the possession towards the end of the half, but could not find a way past the Ukrainian defence, with the sides going in at the break on level pegging.
All of Ukraine's good work over the first 45 minutes however was undone by one shoddy piece of defending three minutes after the restart, with Rooney stealing in after a collection of errors from the hosts. The provider once again was Steven Gerrard, who showed some fancy footwork on the right flank to leave Selin on his back before whipping in a cross that didn't clear the first defender. The ball however took a couple of deflections before passing right through Pyatov's hands, the keeper's fatal gaffe allowing Rooney to head in at the back post from the distance of inches in front of the goal.
Gerrard was again involved in setting England off on the counter a few minutes later, playing a pass down the line to Rooney, who didn't have the pace to beat Hacherydy in a foot race. The striker however was able to turn past a challenge and lay the ball off for Milner, whose shot was well blocked inside the area.
Ukraine however should have been ahead minutes after the hour mark, but were left to rue a combination of bad finishing and poor refereeing for still trailing the English side. It was Milevsky who first missed an absolutely glorious chance to bring the hosts level, heading over the crossbar from inside the six-yard box after a short corner routine was played to Yarmolenko, who in turn played a dangerous cross into the area.
A huge controversy ensued only moments afterwards when Ukraine thought they had scored but were denied by the match officials, who deemed that the ball hadn't crossed the line before it was cleared away. It was Devic on this occasion who was played in by Milevsky, the Shakhtar striker brilliantly turning past Terry before hitting a slightly lesser impressive finish when left alone with the keeper, hitting it too close to Hart which allowed the keeper to get a touch it. The momentum of the ball however saw it roll on towards the net, and though Terry rushed in to hack it clear, replays suggested that the ball had clearly crossed the line while the referee standing less than 5 feet away, on top of the line remained shockingly unmoved. An irate Blokhin gesticulated on the sidelines as Ukraine were denied a clear-cut goal and a chance back into the game, the controversy expected to increase the clamour around to implement goal-line technology in the near future.
England could have added insult to injury with a goal minutes later after Pyatov flapped at a Milner cross and palmed it towards Cole, only to recover brilliantly and turn the left-back's first-time volley around the post.
Shevchenko came on from the bench as a last-gasp attempt to pull a goal back and Konoplyanka had a couple of chances towards the end of the game, but the writing was on the wall after the disallowed goal, as a despondent Ukraine crashed out of the competition, while England celebrated their forthcoming quarterfinal meeting against Italy on Sunday night.
England (4-4-2) - Hart, Johnson, Cole, Terry, Lescott, Gerrard, Young, Milner (Walcott 70'), Parker, Rooney (Oxlade-Chamberlain 87'), Welbeck (Carroll 82')
Ukraine (4-4-2) - Pyatov, Selin, Hacherydy, Rakitskiy, Husyev, Tymoshchuk, Harmash (Nazarenko 78'), Yarmolenko, Konoplyanka, Milevskiy (Butko 77'), DeviÄ‡ (Shevchenko 70')
Final Scoreline:Â·England 1 - 0 Ukraine (Rooney 48')
File Photograph Copyright:Â·Shaun Brooks
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