Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land… So the inflatable spitfires were at the ready, the fans suitably lubricated and to the accompaniment of the great escape, England and their fans stepped into the Donbass Arena filled to the brim with Ukraine supporters that we were hoping to disappoint by eliminating their team and seeing England progress to the quarter-finals. In the other group game, France knew that a win against Sweden was needed to try and ensure finishing top of the group.
England versus Ukraine
This performance utterly typified a Hodgson side. This is exactly the kind of game I thought it would be, but I had been wrong before as I thought that the Sweden game would also be a tight 1-0. It was cagey, it was tight, it was filled with anxiety and nerves, it was a classic England game. The agony of watching England is consistent whomever the manager might but, but under Roy the team certainly benefit from at least appearing hard to beat.
There was much dismay across twitter at half time, but I honestly didn’t think we had played that badly, James Milner aside. I like Milner, he strikes me as a reliable and dependable character, who isn’t easily flustered and will work hard for the team. However so far in this tournament he’s been pants. He’s been a smelly pair of dirty pants. He should be there as a squad player, to fill gaps or come on and help us close off one side of the pitch, he should not be starting every game. Against Ukraine, his main role seemed to be the target for all Joe Hart’s goal kicks. When he was in possession he frequently surrendered it and when he had the chance to cross or to put Ukraine under pressure he wasted it. All of which is disappointing, but what is far more irritating is when he doesn’t follow the run of the fullback or attempt to block his cross when his man has got forward on the overlap, because for all his faults going forward, Milner’s role in the side is primarily to protect Glenn Johnson which so far he’s failed to do. It does beg the question, if he isn’t any better defensively than Walcott, what exactly is the point of Milner?
Anyway, I digress. England got in at half time 0-0. It wasn’t great, I’d have much preferred we went and tried to win the game early, but that was always unlikely with Roy preferring to take a more solid and cautious route. Rooney didn’t look sharp and had missed our best chance failing to get off the ground and heading wide when totally unmarked after a good cross from Young, Parker had given the ball away far too often, Ashley and Ashley were being forced back on the left hand side by the Ukraine right-back playing so high up the pitch and we hadn’t managed a shot on target. Doesn’t sound great but at no stage was I worried about the Ukraine threatening to score and when you can get through an entire half watching England in what was effectively an away game without the feeling of wanting to quickly evacuate your bowels every time the other team has possession near your goal, you have to count that as a big positive.
Then Rooney scored. England have in the past played the “we’re quite unlucky really” card, which has definitely been the case. On this night however, “luck” was very much on our side. I’m not talking about what was to follow, more about our goal. It took no less than 3 deflections between leaving Gerrard’s boot from the cross and hitting Rooney’s head and crossing the line for 1-0. One of those deflections was from the goalkeeper, who it’s fair to say is terrible.
Then Artem Milevskiy missed a good chance with his head. The problem with the chance was that he was offside. He was stood offside. England switched off from a short corner, but Milevskiy stands goal-side of the England defence and doesn’t move, he’s comfortably offside, but the flag never came and he headed it over the bar and nobody seemed to notice that he was offside. Worse was to follow. A high ball forward was misjudged by John Terry, who then didn’t have the pace to get back at Marko Devic who got onto the pass from Milevskiy and had a shot that just about beat Joe Hart, Terry kept going and hooked it clear albeit after the ball had cross the line.
Artem Milevskiy was offside again. Miles offside in the build up to the goal. Whoever the linesman was he was having an absolute shocker, only he was soon to be outdone by the extra official who managed to miss the fact that the ball had crossed the line even though he was standing about as close to the goal as you can be. In a glorious single moment, England had managed to demonstrate how completely flawed the idea of the extra official is, made all the sweeter by the fact that we were the ones getting away with it and not being punished, which makes a nice change.
Then we saw the game out. There wasn’t a huge amount of drama. We nearly made it two through Ashley Cole, when a poor cross from Milner was horribly flapped by the keeper, it fell to Cole (who has never scored for England) but his drive didn’t quite have enough power and allowed the comedy keeper to recover and push it wide. The only moment of worry was when a long shot did that nasty trick of dipping right at the last moment which nearly caught out Hart, thankfully Lescott had followed the shot in brilliantly, reacting before any of the forwards to clear it. Then news started to filter through from the other game and we discovered that a draw would have been enough anyway.
Sweden versus France
Sweden beat France 2-0. Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. It means France now have to play Spain. Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Even though they won Sweden are still out. Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha, Nothing like being gracious in victory. Fair play to Sweden, they’ve done us a massive favour when so often they’ve been England’s bogey team. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored an absolute screamer, Seb Larsson smashed in his chance late on and by all accounts Sweden could have won by more. For the French, that long and hard-fought unbeaten run ends at the hands of Sweden and now they have to play Spain. I predicted them to make the final, but it doesn’t look very likely now.
Day Twelve is brought to you by Wayne Rooney’s hair.
England are through to face Italy, which will be an incredibly hard game. The news that Giorgio Chiellini misses out is a plus, also that England don’t have any players suspended and at the moment *touch wood* no injuries. The ability of Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker to play another game so soon is worrying, they’ve both worked exceptionally hard as England are prone to go long spells without having the ball, a pattern that will no doubt be repeated against Italy, so the fact that we play on Sunday instead of Saturday and we’re playing Italy and not Spain can only be a good thing.
Highlight of the day: Yes, it did cross the line, what are you doing to do about it? Got a problem, call UEFA or speak to the person who sorted Rooney’s hair, either way, I don’t care because he was offside and we’d still have got a point and gone through as group winners anyway, so any point you could make on the subject will be invalid, good day to you.