Harry Kane returned to his lethal best, productivity from set pieces, another clean sheet, fifth of five, and, for the coup de grace, a first England goal for Jordan Henderson on the occasion of his 62nd as international. This was the night that almost everything was perfect for Gareth Southgate and his players as they prepared for a Wembley semi-final against Denmark on Wednesday night.
When England returned home from Rome, it was easy to wonder if football was going in the same direction and certainly the fans of the team inside the Stadio Olimpico thought that way.
Only five times before had England gone this far in a major tournament and the feeling that this group was peaking at the right time was unmistakable. Pre-match expectations had been soaring after the epic round of 16 victory over Germany and Ukraine, who had escaped their group with three points, was seen as direct opposition.
It was a potentially lethal combination, the excess before a crash, but the Southgate team’s approach was impeccable. With an early goal from Kane to settle them, they put Ukraine under attack in the second half, with Harry Maguire and Henderson heading home from set pieces and Kane helping himself to another in the middle. England goes on.
England’s first visit to this historic amphitheater since the 0-0 draw with Italy in 1997 that led to the World Cup the following year was largely framed by the victory over Germany. Never mind burying a 55-year-old knockout curse, he had an ingrained belief within the locker room and across the country.
Southgate, who played in that draw against the Italians, wanted to capitalize on the positivity of Germany’s victory, to get England back on their feet and it was hard to imagine a more perfect start.
Southgate had predicted that Kane was ready for take-off after his late goal against Germany, his first in the championship, and it took only four minutes to score again. Raheem Sterling was the provider, cutting in from the left to thread a beautiful low pass for Kane, who had swung behind a static Ukraine backline. He lunged to get to the ball first before picking it up 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 had found a way to get here from all over continental Europe, “tutto Inglese,” exclaimed a Roman taxi driver. . three hours before kick-off and he didn’t say it with much admiration.
Southgate changed from 3-4-3 with which he had outmaneuvered Germany to a fluid 4-2-3-1, in which the returning Mason Mount wandered from the 10th spot and wingers Kyle Walker and Luke. . Shaw, he was encouraged to push high from the start. Shaw, in particular, was able to see a racing lane down the left wing with Sterling constantly drifting inside.
Andriy Shevchenko’s starting 3-5-2 formation came to look more like 5-3-2 and, in the 36th minute, he made a bold change, replacing center Sergiy Kryvtsov for winger Viktor Tsygankov and leaving. to 4-3‑3. It was because England’s control was almost total, save for a 17-minute span by Walker. He dropped a short pass back to John Stones that allowed Roman Yaremchuk to run and shoot from a tight angle. The Stones was right to force him out and Jordan Pickford saved.
Sterling was in the mood, his rhythm and glowing fingers causing panic in the Ukrainian ranks. He had several flashy bursts before the break, with one, when he beat Oleksandr Karavaev to cross, leading to an opportunity for Declan Rice. The midfielder’s contact was true but the shot went straight to Bushchan. Ukraine briefly looked better in its new system, with Walker not knowing who to choose. He allowed Yaremchuk to run and cross, though Stones once again commanded.
England could have been later at the break, with Jadon Sancho, who had his first outing of the final, guilty of a bad miss in the 40th minute. Sancho, who agreed to join Manchester United, did everything right, turning to the cross. from Shaw to open up the shooting opportunity, only to later hit Bushchan squarely. Shaw was called offside in preparation, though replays showed he was on.
England changed gears at the restart of the second half and it was Shaw who was central in the double that broke Ukraine’s resolve. His free kick from the left was delivered with whip and pace and Mykola Matvienko, enduring a personal nightmare, was intimidated by Maguire. There was only going to be one winner and Maguire’s close-range header went over Bushchan.
The third was fueled by Mount’s outburst and a mischievous skill from Sterling, whose butt stud was tailored to the overlapping Shaw. He crossed the first time and Kane, who lost Matvienko too easily, nodded.
It was time to plan the semifinal. Southgate retired Rice, who was once again excellent, aware he was on a yellow card, and saw his replacement, Henderson, lead home a header from a Mount corner off a more clownish Ukrainian brand.
Moments earlier, Kane had extended Bushchan with a fierce volley with his left foot and, as Southgate also retired another yellow card holder, Kalvin Phillips, Ukraine simply wanted it to be over.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism