Eight down, eight to go. England have gone from apparent tournament no-hopers to finding themselves only two games away from a European Championship Final.
A one-nil victory against co-hosts Ukraine in Donetsk on Wednesday evening coupled with France’s defeat against Sweden in Kiev, saw England top their group and set up a quarter-final against the Italians – a game which is sure to be a tight affair.
Last night saw England narrowly get the better of a strong spirited and tough Ukraine team who were hard to break down. The game saw the return of the Wayne Rooney after suspension, who if a little rusty, didn’t look too much of the pace before being replaced with only three minutes to go.
After heading narrowly wide after an Ashley Young cross just before the half-hour mark, the Manchester United man marked his return by heading his team into the lead just after the break – an opportunity even easier than his first and one he had no trouble converting.
Roy Hodgson’s men were made to battle, and that they did. Scott Parker yet again laid his body on the line or more notably his face but for me, England’s man of the match was John Terry.
The Chelsea captain showed great leadership and gave the kind of performance which saw him earn the right to captain his country once-upon-a-time.
England knew a clean sheet would see them through safely, and they achieved their third in five games under their new manager after some tough, organised defending.
This defending became desperate though when John Terry had to dramatically hook Marko Devic’s effort off the line.
Replays showed the ball had actually crossed the line but aside from the fact we were owed one after Lampard-gate in South Africa two years ago; Artem Milevskiy, who would have claimed the assist for the goal, had collected the ball from an offside position and in hindsight, if Ukraine were awarded the equaliser, a draw would still had been enough for us to top the group any way.
Joe Hart must receive credit for his partial save which slowed the ball down for Terry to have enough time to be able to get anything on the ball and make the clearance. Hart made a number of other important saves throughout the game and definitely earned his first tournament clean sheet.
At half-time, with the score at nil-nil, Hodgson was faced with another test and he certainly passed it. He had to give a team-talk which would see England go and take command of the game and by grabbing an early second half goal and we did that.
Ukraine had to come out and attack England even more so than they had to with the score level and this created chances for England to counter.
Another masterstoke was nearly pulled off by the manager was when the man he chose to replace Rooney, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, burst through and was caught in two minds; either to go all the way and take the glory himself or lay on Arsenal team-mate Theo Walcott.
His hesitation caused him to be tackled at the last by the Ukrainian defender but this showed once again, how he can be dangerous and highlighted why Roy may well have just made the right decision by selecting him for his squad.
Left-back Ashley Cole collected his 97th cap in an appearance against Ukraine which made him the most-capped England player in a competitive tournament and nearly celebrated with his first international goal. He must now be wondering whether his 100th will be the final in Kiev on July 1st.
Let’s hope so, the small matter of Italy and then a semi-final lie ahead, but perhaps the fates are with us?
Don't forget, Greece hosted the Olympics in 2004 and won Euro 2004 a month earlier, we couldn't repeat history, could we?
image: © p_a_h