UKRAINE 0:4 ENGLAND (HT 0:1)
Kane (4′ 50′ mins)
Maguire (46′ mins)
Henderson (63′ mins)
Sterling (4′ mins)
Shaw (46′ 50 mins)
Mount (63′ mins)
Lee Gadsby Basannavar
Gadsby’s England Chief England Correspondent
and Host of Gadsby’s England
THIS was more like something you would see in Ancient Rome, not the modern-day city we know. Ukraine were, quite simply, fed to the lions.
A rampant England swept into the semifinals of EURO 2020 with a superlative performance that must be giving serious pause to the three remaining sides in the tournament. Irrespective of the opposition, to win a major tournament quarterfinal by a four-goal margin is virtually unheard of.
England now return to Wembley on Wednesday to face a dangerous Denmark team who believe destiny is on their side, but must surely feel confident of reaching the promised land: a tournament final for the first time since…when was it again?
England were on the scoreboard in under four minutes. Recharged against Germany at Wembley, Harry Kane looked supercharged in Rome. Sterling was again the provider, slicing and dicing the hapless Ukrainian defence on England’s left, then threading a beautifully-weighted pass through to the oncoming Kane. This time, no hesitation; a toe-poke into the back of the net and the half of the duo considered one of the most-feared in world football, the half we thought had been missing, suddenly made it whole again.
England swarmed around the Ukrainian defence for much of the first half, Andriy Shevchenko’s team desperately holding on. Declan Rice hit a sizzler which Bushchan saved well, Jason Sancho was a constant menace on the right, justifying his inclusion, and England looked in total control.
England’s dominance subsided toward the end of the first period, Ukraine finding some space down their left, getting the better of Kyle Walker a couple of times, without seriously threatening Jordan Pickford’s goal. Pickford seemed to vent his fury at England defenders at the mere sight of a Ukrainian forward facing his direction, such is the standard of excellence expected of this England back line.
1-0 at the break, England mostly in control, but then that sobering statistic: in the past, England lost all knockout games when they took the lead within the first five minutes.
But this is Gareth Southgate’s England, reminding us there are lies, damn lies and statistics. Penalties? Germany? Within a minute of the restart, England had put this stat to the sword, too.
Luke Shaw curled a magnificent free kick into the flight path of Manchester United teammate Harry Maguire, who headed it powerfully into the corner of the net.
Four minutes later, Mount pushed forward to find Sterling on the edge of the box. Sterling waited as Shaw came pounding past him before sending it his way with a beguiling little gem of a pass. Shaw met it with another superb cross, Kane leapt above the Ukrainian defence to head it in and and suddenly it was 3-0.
Surely another example of Gareth Southgate’s game management skills, which seem to reach new heights each time England take to the pitch at these championships. England, though dominant in the first half, were just one goal to the good. Southgate had clearly been identifying yet more Ukrainian soft spots with pinpoint precision, and at half time made a slight alteration to the deployment of Luke Shaw and Mason Mount. The result: Mount and Shaw coming out flying in the second half, the latter with that extra bit of space to demonstrate his supreme crossing skills. Within five minutes, two goals, two assists for Shaw. This is a manager showing formidable football intelligence.
Kane almost made it a second tournament hat-trick with a thunderous volley which was well saved by Bushchan. It was this, in fact, that was more of a sign of Harry Kane unshackled, back to his fearless best; this was a shot he may not even have attempted in the group stage.
Southgate and Steve Holland could already start planning for Denmark. Off came the principles, Shaw, Rice, Phillips, Sterling and Kane, on came Trippier, Bellingham, Henderson, Rashford and Calvert-Lewin. A La Liga winner regarded by Diego Simeone as one of the best full-backs in Europe, a prodigious young 17 year-old playing at the top of the Bundesliga, Everton’s lethal striker, Manchester United’s talisman and, oh, Liverpool’s captain. Which ones are the principles again? Such is the strength-in-depth, such is the manager’s tactical intellect to find a way to fit all of them into his system, yet still get the best out of them individually.
Just to compound Ukraine’s misery, the Liverpool captain then went and scored his first goal for England. 62 caps, a Mason Mount corner, one simple header, and an almost-Stuart Pearce-like explosion of emotion and celebration. That’s what it means to play for England. If the 2018 World Cup and these European Championships have settled one thing once and for all, it is the club vs country argument.
This is the sixth time England have reached the semifinals of a major tournament. Gareth Southgate has now taken England to two in a row, a feat achieved only by Sir Alf Ramsey, who reached the same stage at the 1968 European Championship after winning the World Cup in 1966.
(Including the Nations League would be three in a row; ironically, the format of the present-day Nations League is the same as the European Championships in 1968.)
Only one other team in tournament history has kept a clean sheet for five matches: Italy at their own World Cup in 1990, reaching the semifinal before conceding to Maradona’s Argentina.
With this thumping victory, England have consolidated their place in the new reality. On to the next chapter of it. What they face on Wednesday is a very different kind of hurdle; this Denmark side are more than a football team, playing for something more than a trophy. Player for player, England are of course the better side, but Denmark are without question the most motivated and unified team at this tournament, often looking nerveless. England will have an immense psychological battle to overcome as well as a pure footballing one. Southgate has devoted much of his management to improving and strengthening English players’ mental skills, something that has crippled them in the past. He has made huge strides, but the magnitude of the prize at stake on Wednesday is likely to be the sternest test of mettle yet.
4 Kryvtsov (Substituted for Tsygankov at 35′)
5 Sydorchuk (Substituted for Makarenko at 64′)
3 Shaw (Substituted for Trippier at 65′)
14 Phillips (Substituted for Bellingham at 65′)
4 Rice (Substituted for Henderson at 57′)
10 Sterling (Substituted for Rashford at 65′)
9 Kane (Substituted for Calvert-Lewin at 73′)
Dr. Felix Brych