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While England knew that a draw in their game against Ukraine at Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine, would be enough to achieve qualification from Group D, the return of Wayne Rooney from suspension and the resulting confidence from the victory over Sweden will have the England team eager to try and secure the top spot with a win.
Although they entered the game as favorites, England had to be alert defensively early on with the Ukraine seemingly intent on putting them on the back foot from the start, dominating both possession and territory in the first 15 minutes.
Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Ukraine was unable convert this into meaningful attempts on goal, and most of their chances failed to test Joe Hart in the England goal. The best chance of the first half hour actually went against the run of play and fell to England, with Wayne Rooney, evidently rusty from his lack of game time, headed wide just yards out from goal.
The rest of the first half played out fairly unspectacularly and although Rooney’s solitary chance for England proved to be the best opportunity to break the deadlock, there was no doubting that Ukraine was in control of the game and Roy Hodgson had quite a task on his hands if he was to reverse England’s fortunes and push for the top spot in the group.
Hodgson’s team talk seemed to work instantly, with England taking the lead just two minutes into the second half. Steven Gerrard, who had already supplied two assists so far in this tournament, whipped in a dangerous cross, which Ukrainian goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov could not deal with and the ball fell for Rooney to head into an empty net.
With Ukraine looking desperate to equalize and hopefully take a much needed lead, much-maligned centre back, John Terry, came to England’s rescue, acrobatically clearing a ball off of the line after it had beaten Hart. Instant replays seemed to show that the ball had actually completely crossed the line and the Ukrainian team and fans will feel very aggrieved that the scores were not leveled.
The goal certainly seemed to spur on England and Gerrard’s passing began to open up the Ukrainian defense, releasing the likes of Rooney and Ashley Young into space as England looked to double their lead and confirm their position at the top of the group.
The best efforts of the Ukrainians in the dying minutes were unfortunately not enough to bring their team back into the game and they will have to settle for watching the rest of the tournament in their home nation. England, meanwhile, will be thrilled to have topped the group and, as a result, will face Italy in the quarter-finals rather than the more daunting prospect of Spain, who will be the prize for Group D runner-up, France.