Kiev: Wayne Rooney returned from suspension to fire England to the top of Group D and into the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 as a 1-0 victory over Ukraine set up a date with Italy on Sunday.
The co-hosts dominated much of the opening half and England were happy to get into the break level despite having the best chance through the Manchester United striker.
However, Roy Hodgson’s side came out with a much more impetus in the second half and Rooney scored the 29th goal of his international career to keep England’s unbeaten record in Poland and Ukraine intact.
England’s goal continued to lead a charmed life throughout the second period though and they were indebted to John Terry for a fantastic goal-line clearance in the 62nd minute following Joe Hart`s save from Marko Devic, however replays showed that the ball had crossed the line.
Rooney’s inclusion in the starting line-up was the only change to the side who beat Sweden so James Milner continued on the right hand of midfield despite the impact made by Theo Walcott in England’s 3-2 victory over Sweden.
Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin was dealt a huge blow before kick-off as captain Andriy Shevchenko was not passed fit to start the game with a knee injury. Devic replaced the influential striker in one of four changes to the co-hosts’ side as Artem Milevskiy, Denys Garmash and Yaroslav Rakitskiy replaced Andriy Voronin, Serhiy Nazarenko and Taras Mikhalik.
Cheered on by a vociferous home support, Ukraine began the game on the front foot but Hart’s goal was never really under threat as the England defence restricted them to shots from outside the area.
Andriy Yarmolenko had the first real sight of goal in the ninth minute from the edge of the penalty area, however the Dynamo Kiev midfielder had the ball taken off his toe as Terry executed a perfectly-timed challenge.
Midway through the half the co-hosts continued to dominate the game and a mistake by Ashley Young, as he attempted to deal with a cross-field pass, nearly gifted them the opening goal. Oleg Gusev was able to steal the ball away from the Manchester United winger, before cutting inside from the right wing and firing over the crossbar.
Rooney missed a golden opportunity to give England the lead in the 28th minute, but he mistimed his jump when trying to connect with Young’s inch-perfect cross, and the ball dropped harmlessly wide.
Moments later, Hart was called into action as Milevskiy found some room 25 yards out. He played a neat pass into the path of Yarmolenko, who had escaped the attentions of Ashley Cole. The winger’s curling shot was on target but it was easy for Hart who was able to drop on the ball and make the save.
The half-time break gave England a chance to regroup and within three minutes of the restart they were ahead.
A Steven Gerrard corner was cleared only as far as Glen Johnson, who returned the ball to his captain to deliver a dangerous cross right across the six-yard box to send the Ukraine defence into a scramble and allow Rooney to head in for a yard out.
England’s goal only served to inspire the Ukrainians and they had two fantastic chances in the space of two minutes on the hour mark. The first came from a quick corner from the left but Milevskiy was unable to keep his header down from Yarmolenko’s cross despite getting in front of Joleon Lescott.
A minute later a piece of heroic defending from Terry kept England ahead as his acrobatic clearance denied Devic, although replays appeared to show the ball had actually crossed the line and the striker was, in fact, offside in the build-up.
Ukraine continued to push for the equaliser and they were denied by the impressive Manchester City duo of Hart and Lescott ten minutes later. Yevhen Konoplyanka unleashed a powerful shot from just outside the area that Hart could only parry away, but before another Ukraine player could get onto the loose ball, the centre-back had tidied up for his goalkeeper and averted the danger.
England finished the game playing on the counterattack but spent the majority of the final ten minutes in their own half as Ukraine threw everything they had at their opponents, even the introduction of Shevchenko couldn’t inspire the co-hosts and their elimination was confirmed.