19 June 2012

England 1-0 Ukraine

Rooney 48'

Controversy! Drama! Mostly crap football! Never change, England. Never change, UEFA.

Rooney returned, our savior, in place of Carroll as the only change from last match's XI. And Ukraine were dominant in the first half, with Hodgson's side unsurprisingly content to invite the opposition on and hope to keep it tight, play for the draw and maybe, hopefully, somehow score on the counter or from a set play. Nine shots from the hosts to just four from England, but all but one Ukraine shot off-target, most from distance. Rooney had England's lone decent opportunity, but headed a sitter wide midway through the frame, clearly coated in a thick layer of rust.

The hoped-for England's goal came soon after the restart, and from a set play. Gerrard's corner initially cleared, picked up by Glen Johnson and returned to the captain, clever footwork to beat the closing defender, a dangerous right-flank cross twice deflected then spilled by the keeper, easily tapped in by the returning conquering hero at the far post. Don't be surprised when Rooney gets all the credit for a goal any of us could have scored.

Let's get to the fun stuff. Namely, this:

Even with this grainy, television screen capture, you can see the ball's over the line. Ukraine stormed down the left after a long ball from Selin, with both Terry and Lescott caught behind the strikers they were marking. Milevskiy laid off for Dević, who danced around Terry then fired a shot which squirmed under Hart's save, somehow cleared out of the goal-mouth by England's Brave JT. But cleared after it crossed the line.

To be fair, the extra officials behind the goal have made a difference. There has been far less Greco-Roman wrestling by agricultural center-backs and better decisions on corners or goal kicks. On the whole, they've been a valuable addition; an extra set of eyes is usually helpful. This one just did his job terribly today. Now resumes the all-consuming chorus for goal technology. Well, probably not quite all-consuming. The furor after Lampard's World Cup "goal" against Germany was all-consuming. Furor tends to be less all-consuming when it benefits England.

The official behind the goal wasn't the only negligent official today, joined in idiocy by the linesman on that side of the pitch. Not only was Milevskiy offside in the build-up to the controversial no-goal, he was also offside a minute earlier when missing an easier header than Rooney missed. Neither saw the linesman raise his flag. Well done. Idiocy loves company.

After that second stomach punch, Ukraine were never likely to find the two goals they needed to qualify. Hart was tested just once more, wonderfully parrying Konoplyanka's whirling, weaving, diving 35-yard rocket in the 73rd minute, cleared out of the six-yard-box by Lescott. But the scrambling, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink ending suited England just fine. 12 of the Ukraine's 16 shots came from outside the box; only the aforementioned Konoplyanka effort was on target. Shevchenko, left out of the starting line-up due to injury, couldn't conjure a miracle as in the first match. Walcott, Carroll, and Oxlade-Chamberlain came on to give England fresh legs, and England saw out its lead like Hodgson's West Brom or Fulham, not Hodgson's Liverpool.

Once again, and not just because of my overwhelming Liverpool bias, I have to single out Steven Gerrard's performance.

Technically, StatsZone aren't crediting Gerrard with an assist – possibly because of the deflections, possibly because of the keeper's howler – but that goal was created by Gerrard. As were three other chances, more chances created than any other England player. Another supremely disciplined central midfield performance, and four more tackles than holding midfielder supreme and press corps favorite Scott Parker – tackles which came on both flanks, helping demonstrate the defensive effort he put in. He has been England's best player in all three matches, provided assists for three of England's five goals, and has either scored or assisted on five of England's last eight tournament goals. It has been a true captain's tournament, and I'm sure there's absolutely no coincidence that it's happened with Frank Lampard nowhere in sight.

The Hodgson Express steams on to Italy. France's complete failure against Sweden means England avoid Spain, at least for now. Once again, it wasn't pretty by any possible definition, but it worked. That counts for something, as much as I dislike crediting Hodgson for anything except disease, famine, and other assorted evils. But whether that will suffice against Italy, or any of the other sides left in the competition for that matter, remains a much tougher question.

1 comment :

YNWAinPA said...

My friend, what a beauty of a site, named after the video that made me a Liverpool fan. And a fine evaluation of the match. After this game though, I do find myself longing for someone with the crossing prowess of Ashley Young to join the Skipper on Liverpool. Every one of his crosses seemed true, and if finished easily could've made this game more lopsided than it finished. Here's to visions of Balotelli red cards and England moving onto the semis!