All about the winning
A well known saying goes that it is not the winning, but the taking part that counts. That simply being there is good enough. That as long as the out-of-form striker is getting in the positions, making the runs, it doesn’t matter that he is fluffing his lines. At least he was there. As nice as this sentiment is, no-one actually believes it, do they?!
Even when I am down the park having a kick about and I miss a sitter (which never happens, I assure you…), I feel like crying, or at least do my utmost to blame anyone but myself. I don’t stand there hands on head thinking joyously about what fun all this taking part is, do I? Would you? However, during this European Championship that is the attitude most England fans have colluded in.
Expectations on the English football team have never been lower, with most dismissing their chances of even getting through the group stages. Of course, being England, they had to disappoint their fans, and a 1-0 win against the co-hosts Ukraine last night in Donetsk saw England through as group winners. The result meant avoiding the Spanish and setting up a quarter-final with Italy on Sunday. Well, I never.
Of course, the worst thing about their marginal victory is that the illusion that we were all happy England were simply taking part in the Euros (after the Wally with the brolly incident) has been shattered. No-one was really happy. If we had gone out, I’m sure we would have all reconciled each other, saying “hey-ho, we weren’t expecting anything anyway” but really, inside we would have been heartbroken.
Unfortunately, we have qualified as group winners, avoiding the Spanish in the quarter-finals. Suddenly, we as a nation have shown our true colours. England can win it now, can’t they?! You all hope as much regardless of those trying to put back on their re-conciliatory mask. As evidence, I provide you with this: the first thing you thought when you found out England went through was “who are we going to play in the semis? The Germans? Oh no, not the bloody Germans!” No mention of the Azzurri. See expectation. It’s awful.
Other blips of hope that have been constantly repeated by anyone resembling a pundit: we have never beaten Sweden in a championship before this one, Rooney’s back and scoring, and we have never beaten a host nation before. Not that yesterday’s performance was worthy of a victory, but still.
It was a fairly abject game. The ball spent more time out for throw-ins than in the attacking third. England were unable to keep the ball for very long, and a lot of our completed passes were sideways and backwards, rather than into the feet of Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney. In contrast, Ukraine could hold the ball and looked dangerous coming forward. An early shot by Yevgen Konoplianka flew just wide of Joe Hart’s cross bar.
Minutes later, another effort from outside the box, Denys Garmash this time, was high and wide. This pattern of play continued almost throughout the game; Ukraine holding the ball well, but finding a wall of white on the edge of the box, forcing them to shoot from long distance.
When they did get behind the English defence, it was Andriy Yarmolenko down England’s left hand side – who constantly had the beating of Ashley Cole – doing most of the work. This seemed to be the best chance for a goal from the host nation. As a result, Ashley Young was forced to drop back to support, and once again didn’t look anywhere near the attacking threat I know he can be.
At the other end, England laboured away but could find no penetration, and Andriy Pyatov in the Ukrainian goal was not tested enough by England’s attacking players. Particularly disappointing was a tame headed effort from the left hand edge of the six yard box on 27 minutes. A beautifully curled ball in by Young seemed to be misjudged by Rooney, who couldn’t get up high enough, the ball brushing harmlessly off his new hairdo.
Half-time came with some relief and disbelief that it was still 0-0, though in truth, England had had the only gilt-edged chance in a game of very few.
If Rooney had been disappointed with his first half header, he soon got a chance to make amends. Steven Gerrard out on the right hand side, following an England corner, cut inside, then out, leaving the defender on his backside before whipping in a low ball across the six yard box. It took two deflections and an abject flap from Pyatov before the ball sat up for Rooney to nod in right on the line. If the first header was gilt-edged this was unmissable.
England were ahead and Ukraine were shocked. The home crowd was silenced and England looked comfortable. That was almost the way it stayed throughout the second half. Once again, Ukraine dominated possession but found a formidable wall of bodies.
Barring a crazy 10 minutes against the Swedish, the English defence has looked organized and solid, hard to break down and Ukraine were really struggling. They needed a bit of magic or luck to get through and it just wouldn’t come.
Their chance came on the hour mark. A ball over the top found an offside Artem Milevskiy in space, who flicked the ball on to Marko Devic, who had outstripped John Terry for pace through the middle. Hart did well to get enough on Devic’s low shot to send the ball looping up in the air and into the goal before Terry, who had followed the ball in, acrobatically hooked the ball clear. The much-maligned defender’s efforts were enough to confuse the officiating team, and the goal didn’t count despite furious appeals from the men in yellow.
Those two awful decisions in the space of one move put the final nail in the coffin of this already ghastly game, and not even the introduction of national hero Andriy Shevchenko playing in his last international could bring the hosts back into it. England saw the game out comfortably.
So a win, top place in the group secured and expectations raised.