Wayne Rooney returned from suspension to head a 48th minute winner for England as Ukraine lacked the cutting edge required to see them through to the Quarter-Finals on Sunday night.
Ukraine owned the opening half of this match, dominating possession throughout while England’s central midfield pair, Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker, were largely relegated to the role of onlookers. But with Andriy Shevchenko out injured the Ukrainian front line of Milevskiy and Devic failed to generate any real threat on the England goal.
Garmash thrashed a shot over the England bar on five minutes before Yarmalenko wasted a chance four minutes later when a deflected ball over the top found him in acres of space. Selin then burst down the left, whipping a low ball in to Devic who saw his shot blocked away by John Terry.
Terry continued to be a key presence in England’s back-line, regularly showing up in the precise spot where the Ukrainians least wished him to be. On 18 minutes it was the Chelsea man who was there once again to charge down Konoplyanka’s effort after he cut inside having controlled a superb diagonal ball from right full back Gusev.
Gusev had a go himself midway through the opening period and his ferocious drive from 25 yards whistled inches over Hart’s crossbar. Meanwhile, England were exercising their most likely avenue of success, set-pieces. On 24 minutes Gerrard delivered an out-swinging free kick that just eluded Wayne Rooney’s run to the near post. Pyatov then flapped at the ball, scooping it away from Terry who was lurking at the back post.
Rooney, full of running but clearly lacking match sharpness, then misplaced a free header from Ashley Young’s searching cross from the left. And that would be the nearest Roy Hodgson’s men would come to a goal in the first half.
Yarmalenko should have made the breakthrough on the half hour mark but Joe Hart got down well to the winger’s rather meek effort after England had been opened up by Devic and Milevskiy. When the half time whistle came it ended 45 minutes in which Ukraine has continually failed to breach an accomplished looking England defence, despite their evident superiority.
But if England fans were dispirited by their team’s first half performance they had reason to celebrate three minutes in to the second half. Gerrard’s corner was returned to him after Tymoshchuk initially headed clear and the Liverpool man beat his defender before sending in a cross that Pyatov utterly failed to deal with. As the ball sailed through the Ukrainian defence Rooney was at the back post to head into an empty net.
Needing a win to progress, the hosts dutifully returned to attack, but in the 53rd minute Gerrard broke out, chasing a cleared corner before delivering a first time ball that split the Ukrainian defence and sent Rooney clean through. Perhaps, if fully fit, Rooney might have ended the contest, but he was chased down and smothered by the recovering Ukraine defence.
On the hour mark Ukraine should have been back in it when Yarmalenko’s wonderful cross was flicked over the bar from point blank range by Milevskiy. And the sense that it might not be Ukraine’s night was exacerbated moments later when Devic was played through, only to see Terry hook his half blocked shot off the line. Replays would show that the fifth official, on the goal-line, got it wrong. The ball had crossed the line.
In what had become a highly entertaining game, Ashley Cole latched on to a loose ball after Milner’s cross from the right was half cleared. His first time effort seemed destined for the Ukraine net but Pyatov got across and managed to keep his side alive, pushing the ball around the post.
It was a situation that demanded the introduction of the Ukraine’s veteran talisman, Andriy Shevchenko, and with 20 minutes remaining he replaced Devic to thunderous applause. Within minutes England had escaped another close call.
Konolpyanka loosed off a 30 yarder that moved wickedly in the air, almost deceiving Hart. The England keeper somehow managed to get a hand to it and, as the ball dropped before a gaping goalmouth, Lescott cleared from the in-rushing Milevskiy.
Once more, in this most entertaining of tournaments, we were treated to a barnstorming finish.
It should have been a barnstorming finish. Ukraine desperately needed a goal and remained in general control of the football. But there was too much panic about their play. Too many long balls and, when they came, attempts on goal from too far out let England off the hook and even the magical presence of Shevchenko was rendered insignificant.
Led by the determination of Gerrard and the unfading stature of Terry, England held out, winning through to the quarter-finals with far more comfort than the overall quality of their performance deserved.
England: Hart; Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole; Milner (Walcott 70), Gerrard, Parker, Young; Welbeck (Carroll 82), Rooney (Oxlade-Chamberlain 87).
Subs not used: Green (gk), Butland (gk), Kelly, Baines, Jones, Jagielka, Henderson, Downing, Defoe.
Bookings: Gerrard (73), Cole (78).
Ukraine: Pyatov; Gusev, Khacheridi, Rakitskiy, Selin; Yarmolenko, Tymoshchuk, Garmash (Nazarenko 78), Konoplyanka; Milevskiy (Butko 77), Devic (Shevchenko 70).
Subs not used: Koval (gk), Goryainov (gk), Kucher, Shevchuk, Mikhalyk, Allyev, Rotan, Voronin, Seleznyov.
Bookings: Tymoshchuk (63), Rakitskiy (74) Shevchenko (86).
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary).
Extratime Man of the Match: John Terry (England).
Simon O'Gorman began reporting for Extratime in 2010. He remembers Milltown and Flower Lodge and, back in the mists of time, saw Diego Maradona play at Lansdowne Road. He now lives in Co Kildare and reports on Shamrock Rovers among others. Simon can be contacted at email@example.com