England reach Euro12 quarters amid drama
Only one goal counted, and it belonged to Wayne Rooney. The England striker returned from a two-match suspension to head in the lone goal on Tuesday and give his team a 1-0 win over Ukraine and a spot in soccer’s Euro 2012 quarter-finals.
The co-hosting Ukrainians – needing a win to advance – thought they had equalised in the 62nd minute when Marko Devic’s looping shot appeared to cross the line before it was hooked clear by England defender John Terry. But the goal was not awarded by the referee or his extra assistant, who was only a few metres from the post.
“The goal that wasn’t given really changed our plan because, if it was given, I think the whole game could have looked another way,” retiring Ukrainian captain Andriy Shevchenko said. “We tried to give Ukraine a gift but we weren’t able to do it.”
“I was sad because the ball was in the goal by one metre,” Ukrainian coach Oleg Blokhin said.
The controversy will likely add to the pressure on UEFA President Michel Platini to reverse his opposition to goal-line technology.
It was Rooney, however, who did manage to put his team on the scoreboard.
England captain Steven Gerrard whipped a cross into the penalty area that glanced off two defenders before Ukrainian goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov let it slip through his hands as he crouched to collect the ball. Rooney was primed at the far post and made it count.
“I was always putting myself in goalscoring opportunities,” Rooney said. “I could’ve done better with a couple more but I got the goal and it’s three points.”
Rooney missed the first two Euro 2012 matches through suspension.
The goal was Rooney’s first at a major tournament since scoring four at Euro 2004 as an 18-year-old rising star. He failed to find the net at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, while England failed to even qualify for Euro 2008.
“There was a lot of pressure on Wayne,” Gerrard said. “But he stood up and, when we needed him, he was there.”
With the victory, England win Group D and next face Italy in Kiev on Sunday. France also advance, despite losing to Sweden 2-0 in the other group match.
England are unbeaten in five matches under Roy Hodgson, who took over last month following Fabio Capello’s resignation in February.
“Most people didn’t think we’d get out of the group,” Hodgson said. “We’ve won it on points instead of goal difference as well. This was an away game with a capital ‘A’.
“It was a while since he played a competitive match,” Hodgson said of Rooney. “Every day helps him and helps us. The fact that he had 80 minutes today will give him confidence for the Italy game.”
After Ukraine’s elimination, captain Shevchenko announced he was retiring from international football.
Shevchenko, who was carrying a knee injury and started on the bench, came on in the 70th minute, but could not find a goal that would have brought his side back into the match.
“It was my last big game for Ukraine. I will play one more friendly to say goodbye to my fans,” he said.
Shevchenko, who was crowned World Footballer of the Year in 2004, played 111 times for Ukraine.© AAP 2013