UKRAINE 0, ENGLAND 1
Wayne Rooney created positive headlines on his long-awaited return to action as he steered England into the quarter finals of Euro 2012.
The striker, back after a two-match international ban, made up for lost time scoring the matchwinning goal against hosts Ukraine in his first appearance in the tournament.
Most importantly, however, the victory clinched top spot in their group avoiding a last-eight clash against reigning World and European champions Spain.
England will play Italy on Sunday at the start of the knockout phase thanks to Rooney’s 29th international goal, but his first for his country in nine months and in a major tournament since 2004.
That was something Rooney was painfully aware of as he later explained: “I am delighted with the win and to have scored the goal as I haven’t scored in a major tournament for a while.
“I thought we deserved the win. We have worked hard in training and are difficult to beat, hard to break down and have players who can score goals.”
Rooney added the main target was to emerge from the group saying to finish top was “great.”
And he looks ahead with confidence declaring: “We have stuck together and got a belief and are ready for the challenges which lie ahead.”
Manager Roy Hodgson admitted England had exceeded expectations by winning a group some through they would not get out of.
He also believes they will get better as he explained: “This is a fledgling team and we have not worked together very long.
“We played well and could have scored several other goals. On counter attacks we are dangerous and can be even more so.”
Hodgson made the brave decision to restore Rooney to the starting line up in of Andy Carroll, even though he had played only 37 minutes football in the previous 37 days.
And Rooney was clearly struggling in the opening period with his touch poor as he lacked his usual sharpness.
The glaring miss after 28 minutes when he headed wide with the goal at his mercy from six yards underlined his lack of action.
Ukraine, playing on home territory in Donetsk, were the better side in the opening period, though they only once troubled Joe Hart. That was when he dived smartly to keep out a shot from Andriy Yarmolenko.
England make the all-important breakthrough in the 48th minute when Steven Gerrard fired a low ball across the face of goal.
It took a couple of deflections before lifting off the ground for Rooney to head home at the far post from one yard at most. He will never have an easier chance.
England were unlucky not to win a penalty shortly afterwards when Yarmolenko was clearly spotted pulling Rooney’s shirt, but the offence went undetected by the match officials.
Hodgson then enjoyed the slice of luck predecessor Fabio Capello lacked in the 2010 World Cup.
Hart managed to parry a shot from Marko Devic but, as the ball went towards the unguarded goal, John Terry made a remarkable goalline clearance showing incredible athleticism for a veteran. Television replays showed, however, the ball had clearly crossed the line.
It certainly compensated for the goal Frank Lampard was cruelly denied in South Africa which ought to have been awarded against Germany at a critical time in their knockout game which they lost.
With Ukraine committed to all-out attack as they needed a win to avoid elimination at the group stage, this enable England to counter attack which is a strength.
In the final quarter of the game Ashley Cole and Rooney were both denied by keeper Andriy Pyatov as England could have emerged victors by a far wide margin.