After Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll fared admirably in Wayne Rooney’s absence for England’s opening two games, a few dissenting voices were calling for the returning striker to be left on the bench.
His rusty first-half display against Ukraine didn’t do much to justify his instant return to Roy Hodgson’s line-up but the Manchester United man was back to his goalscoring tricks in the early minutes of the second half when he nodded home from close range – marking his first goal at a major tournament since Euro 2004.
His bundled-in effort was enough to send England through to the knock-out rounds as Group D winners, while Ukraine crashed out on home turf.
We look back on England’s final group game at the Donbass Arena.
After serving a two-game suspension, Wayne Rooney was back to lead England’s line, but those expecting him to explode into life were left disappointed in the first half.
The striker looked distinctly rusty at times, most notably when he missed a 28th-minute sitter, failing to nod home an Ashley Young cross from six yards. Another gaffe early on saw Danny Welbeck find him in space in the Ukraine half only for the frontman to leave the ball behind him as he ambled off towards goal.
Rooney was given the chance to redeem himself just minutes into the second half, however, and this time he didn’t miss, nodding home from Steven Gerrard’s cross from point-blank range after Ukraine’s goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov had fluffed his lines.
Fast start from Ukraine
The hosts pounced on England from the off, flying out of the traps with the raucous backing of a fired-up home crowd. Their fast start had the desired effect, with England looking flustered and nervy in the opening minutes.
As the men in yellow pushed the Three Lions up the pitch the pressure looked like it might pay off, with starlet Andriy Yarmolenko coming close.
Fortunately for England, the hosts’ energy began to wane soon after as they struggled to keep up the early pace, and the game soon dropped to a more manageable tempo. Even so, Hodgson’s men will have to be wary of being caught napping in the same manner in the quarter-finals.
Tuesday night’s victory over Ukraine was a landmark occasion for England’s left-back, who is always respected for his football abilities, but perhaps less so for the perception of his general demeanour away from the field of play.
Cole collected his 97th cap for his country in the Group D triumph and also became the first player to make 21 tournament appearances for the Three Lions, edging ahead of Peter Shilton and David Beckham. A century of caps is the next milestone in the sights of the Chelsea defender – would it be too much to ask for him to achieve that during this summer’s tournament?
The only thing missing from his game is goals – he is yet to find the net for his country.
Poor Andriy Pyatov. The Ukraine goalkeeper is likely to be the fall-guy for this defeat after allowing Steven Gerrard’s dangerous low cross to slip through his hands and gift Wayne Rooney the winning goal early in the second period.
In his defence, Danny Welbeck’s slight touch of the ball made a crucial difference to the trajectory and Pyatov did not have time to adjust, although he could have done more to get his body behind the ball.
It is also worth bearing in mind that Pyatov is by no means the first-choice for his country, and is more third or fourth in the usual pecking order.
With this perspective, picture an England side with Jack Butland as the last line of defence, rather than Joe Hart.
Steven Gerrard continued to play creator for England, providing the teasing cross that set up Rooney’s winner.
The assist crowned an all-round impressive shift from the midfielder, who put in a real captain’s performance. The Liverpool man covered every blade of grass, working hard throughout and showing a glint of quality in what was at times a turgid England display.
Setting up the goal took Gerrard’s tally this tournament to three assists from the same number of games – a record he’ll be hoping to build on in the knockout rounds.
The goal-line technology debate has reared its head again before Euro 2012 even made it out of the group stage.
When Marko Devic drove towards goal in the second half it appeared John Terry had made a miraculous goal-line clearance. On closer inspection, the ball was clearly over the line, something the extra official standing behind the goal failed to spot.
Karma for Frank Lampard’s ‘goal that wasn’t’ at the 2010 World Cup? Not really, because the Ukrainian striker was offside, but the incident was still enough to refuel debate over whether technology has a place in the game.
Roy Hodgson has made slight, but crucial, changes to his side throughout Euro 2012 so far.
He sprang a surprise by selecting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the opener against France, and although the youngster impressed, he was immediately back on the bench to accommodate the aerial threat of Andy Carroll for the clash with Sweden.
The Liverpool forward found the net and produced a solid all-round centre-forward’s display, but was similarly surplus to requirements due to the return of Wayne Rooney in the Ukraine decider.
Theo Walcott must also wonder how he did not earn a starting spot for the Ukraine game after his contribution from the bench against Sweden, but Hodgson’s decision making so far cannot be questioned.
The general consensus of opinion is that England now have an ‘easier’ quarter-final after winning Group D given that they are up against Italy on Sunday, rather than Spain the day before.
While there is no doubting the class of the world and European champions, it would be very foolish to write off Italy, who it should be remembered drew 1-1 with Vicente del Bosque’s men during their Group C campaign.
This may not be a vintage Italy side, but they still carry enough attacking threat to keep England’s well-drilled defence on their toes, with the enigmatic Mario Balotelli sure to be keen to prove a point to Manchester City team-mates Joe Hart and Joleon Lescott.