England face Italian job after passing Donetsk test to pip France to top spot
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
So the Euro 2012 quarter-finals are set as both England and France qualify on the final day of group play. Our Euro 2012 correspondent Adam Hurrey reports as hopes an English triumph begin to swell.
They probably couldn’t have planned it better. In qualifying comfortably from Group D, with a 1-0 win over Ukraine while France were beaten by Sweden, Roy Hodgson’s men avoided a quarter-final against Spain. Wayne Rooney scored on his return and the England defence (thanks in part to a lapse by the goal-line official) kept their first clean sheet of Euro 2012.
Instead, they travel to Kiev to take on Italy at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday. Balotelli, Cassano and di Natale may present a rather less formidable threat than the Spanish, but England should be wary of the tournament’s latest dark horses.
The final group game against the co-hosts had the potential to be an awkward test in front of the partisan home fans, but the Donbass Arena is no snarling cauldron. The eagerly-awaited return of Rooney from suspension gave England a markedly more sophisticated look in attack, linking play from midfield and finding space at will. Just before the half-hour, he had a chance to open his account for the tournament from a superb cross from Ashley Young, but his header flew wide. It was tempting to blame it on “rustiness” – that vague, unquantifiable concept that explains pretty much anything after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
However, Rooney was assured throughout, and he only had to wait until three minutes into the second half for his goal. Steven Gerrard, excellent once again, swung in another of his emphatic crosses to the near post. After a deflection had wrong-footed goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov, Rooney was left with the simplest of tasks to nod home uncontested.
If England had benefited from a slice of luck here, they were to be handed a second portion just after the hour. Marko Devic raced through the England defence and, after Joe Hart had half-blocked his shot, John Terry assumed his customary position of auxiliary goalkeeper and hooked the ball off the line. Replays showed that the ball had crossed the line, while the Twittersphere exploded with technology-based indignation. In truth, the ball was very close to the line and the extra official, whose view was obscured by the post, could not award a goal with any certainty. The combustible Oleh Blokhin raged on the touchline (and again in the press conference), but an offside in the build-up rendered his protestations irrelevant. Offside decisions may not be as glamorous as freeze-frame goal-line extravaganzas, but these things should not be discounted.
The introduction of Andriy Shevchenko for the last 20 minutes, in possibly his final bow in a Ukraine shirt, failed to spark the co-hosts into finding an equaliser. With news of France’s 2-0 defeat to Sweden filtering through, England had secured top spot in Group D. The same resilience displayed in Donetsk will be required against Italy, with Rooney sure to be sharper in Kiev.
With Gerrard and Parker showing few signs of wear and tear, a confident England will worry Cesare Prandelli’s side. A semi-final place, and the best tournament showing since Euro ’96, would be a undoubted success for Roy Hodgson, especially given the less-than-ideal preparations.
England, inevitably, expects.
Adam will be covering Euro 2012 for the BettingExpert blog with thanks to our friends at Betfair.
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