Striker scores on return as England top their group
MATCHWINNER Wayne Rooney insists rival teams will now fear England after he capped his comeback with the goal that secured top spot in Group D and set up a Euro 2012 quarter-final with Italy.
Striker Rooney, returning from a two-match ban for a red card in qualifying, headed the decider in the 48th minute from a cross by captain and man of the match Steven Gerrard.
Defeat eliminated co-hosts Ukraine, who felt aggrieved that officials did not see Marko Devic’s potential equaliser had crossed the line before John Terry hooked it clear.
In keeping with the rest of their campaign, England displayed more grit than guile, but Rooney believes they have shown enough in three games to suggest they can overcome Italy on Sunday.
“I think we know our qualities and what we’re capable of,” he said. “I don’t think there is any team that would fancy playing us. We’re difficult to break down and we’ve got the players who can score goals, so it’s going well.”
Manager Roy Hodgson, who has already exceeded some expectations by winning the group ahead of France, welcomed his team’s slice of good fortune.
“If it was over the line then that was a slice of luck,” he said. “We’ve suffered bad luck in those areas so if it was good luck today then we got it.”
England needed only a draw while Ukraine required a win to progress, and it showed in the opening stages as Scott Parker and Terry had were called upon to deny Marko Devic and Andriy Yarmolenko.
Rooney, starting an England game for the first time since his red card against Montenegro in October, should have scored on 28 minutes but headed wide unchallenged from Ashley Young’s left-wing in-swinger.
The Manchester United striker made no mistake just after the interval, however, nodding in from virtually on the line after goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov had fumbled a menacing right-wing delivery from Gerrard.
Artem Milevskiy might have levelled quickly but headed over from close range, although Ukraine would soon have the ball in England’s net, when Devic escaped John Terry and shot past Joe Hart.
Terry tried in vain to clear off the line, with replays showing the ball had fully crossed, leaving the co-hosts furious, not least manager Oleg Blohkin.
Tomorrow, Warsaw: Czech Rep v Portugal
Friday, Gdansk : Germany v Greece
Saturday, Donetsk : Spain v France
Sunday, Kiev : England v Italy