England beat Ukraine 4-0 to advance to Euro 2020 semi-final with Denmark

England beat Ukraine 4-0 to advance to Euro 2020 semi-final with Denmark

Harry Kane back to his best, productivity on set pieces, a new clean sheet – the fifth out of five – and, for the knockout, a first English goal for Jordan Henderson on the occasion of his 62nd selection . It was the night when just about everything was perfect for Gareth Southgate and his players as they set up a Wembley semi-final against Denmark on Wednesday night.

As England returned home from Rome it was easy to wonder if football was heading in the same direction and, certainly, the fans of the team inside the Stadio Olimpico were thinking that way.

England had only reached this stage five times before in a major tournament and the feeling that this group was reaching their peak at the right time was undeniable. Pre-match expectations were high after the epic round of 16 victory over Germany and Ukraine, who had withdrawn from their group with three points, were widely seen as direct opposition.

It was a potentially fatal combination, excess before a crash, but the focus of the Southgate team was beyond reproach. With an early goal from Kane to settle them, they subjected Ukraine to an assault in the second half, with Harry Maguire and Henderson returning home from set pieces and Kane helping each other in between. England is advancing.

England’s first visit to this legendary amphitheater since the 0-0 draw with Italy in 1997 that led them to the World Cup the following year was largely framed by the victory over Germany. Regardless of burying a 55-year-old knockout curse, there was a hard-wired belief in the locker room and across the country.

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Southgate, who played in that stalemate against the Italians, wanted to harness the positivity of Germany’s victory, for England to take the lead and it was hard to imagine a more perfect start.

Southgate had predicted Kane was ready for takeoff after his late goal against Germany – his championship first – and it only took him four minutes to score again. Raheem Sterling was the provider, cutting inside on the left to put on a nice low pass for Kane, who had spun behind a static Ukrainian backline. He first rushed to reach the ball before lifting it and passing Georgiy Bushchan.

It was England’s first and only draw away from Wembley in these finals, although a boisterous contingent of fans with the Three Lions on their chests found a way to come from across mainland Europe, “Tutto Inglese,” exclaimed a Roman taxi driver about three hours before kick-off and he didn’t say it with too much admiration.

Jordan Henderson celebrates after smashing his English duck with the team’s fourth goal in Rome. Photographie : Alessandro Garofalo/AP

Southgate went from the 3-4-3 he had beaten Germany with to a smooth 4-2-3-1, in which Mason Mount’s return wandered from the No.10 role and full-backs Kyle Walker and Luke. Shaw, were encouraged to push high from the start. Shaw, in particular, could see a running track on the left wing with Sterling constantly drifting inside.

Andriy Shevchenko’s starting line-up in 3-5-2 looked more like a 5-3-2, and in the 36th minute he made a bold change, replacing center-half Sergiy Kryvtsov with the winger , Viktor Tsygankov, and going to 4-3-3. This is because England’s control was almost complete except for a 17-minute slip from Walker. He allowed a short back pass for John Stones which allowed Roman Yaremchuk to run and get a shot from a tight angle. Stones did well to force him to dismiss and Jordan Pickford saved.

Sterling was in the mood, his pace and glittering toes causing panic in the Ukrainian ranks. He had several eye-catching bursts before the break, including one when he beat Oleksandr Karavaev to cross, giving Declan Rice a chance. The midfield contact was real but the shot was direct on Bushchan. Ukraine briefly looked better in their new system, with Walker unsure of who to choose. He allowed Yaremchuk to run and cross, although Stones again pulled over.

England could have been further ahead at half-time, with Jadon Sancho, who got his first start in the final, guilty of a bad miss in the 40th minute. Sancho, who agreed to join Manchester United, did everything right, turning on Shaw’s cross to open up the possibility of a shot, only to then hit Bushchan directly. Shaw was flagged offside during preparation, although reruns showed he was active.

England moved up a gear in the resumption of the second half and it was Shaw who played a central role in the brace that shattered Ukraine’s resolve. His left free kick was delivered with whip and rhythm and Mykola Matvienko, who endured a personal nightmare, was intimidated by Maguire. There would be only one winner, and Maguire’s point-blank head flew past Bushchan.

The third was driven by Mount’s shattering and a mischievous skill from Sterling, whose heel was tailor-made for Shaw’s straddle. He went through the first time and Kane, who lost Matvienko too easily, nodded.

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It was time to plan for the semi-final. Southgate pulled out Rice, who was once again excellent, aware he was on a yellow card, and saw his replacement, Henderson, bring a header home from a Mount corner in the face of more burlesque Ukrainian marking.

Moments earlier, Kane had extended Bushchan with a vicious left-footed volley and, as Southgate also pulled out another yellow card carrier – Kalvin Phillips – Ukraine just wanted it to end.


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