It wasn’t England’s most fluent performance and Wayne Rooney’s goal was a headed tap-in. But who cares? England are through to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 with a win against Ukraine.
Top, yes top, of Group D. Optimism abounds. And with each match there’s a growing feeling that Roy Hodgson is sprinkled with a dash of stardust.
Blessed with luck, too, considering that Ukraine had the ball in the England net but John Terry hooked the ball away and the officials deemed it had not crossed the line.
But back to Hodgson. In a draw with France he showed how caution and detail gets the job done. In a win against Sweden, his players raised the bar on expectation with the selection of Andy Carroll and the substitution of Theo Walcott. Against Ukraine the football was anything but pretty but the England spirit again was willing.
True, Rooney did not exactly ride into England’s Euro 2012 challenge like a latter-day Sir Lancelot. Hodgson had been talking of the Manchester United striker in terms of Pele. In truth, Rooney played nothing like the player who so often supplies the verve for Manchester United. He was sloppy. His control was wanting, his passing awry, his timing dodgy. After his two-match suspension the flakes of rust clung to his every move.
His game was best illustrated when he arrived on the end of a Ashley Young cross but failed to time his leap.
The ball glanced off his head with the goal gaping and a bread-and-butter chance, which he would have buried in the Premier League, went begging. We worried at that point. Why? Because it was all too static and cautious. Too many straight lines. Too predictable. Too 4-4-2. Let’s be honest, England were being outplayed.
But then Rooney turned up in the right place at the right time by striker’s instinct and England were in the quarter-finals. It was not quite that simple. They had to negotiate some concerted Ukraine pressure. Goalkeeper Joe Hart made two fine blocks, Joleon Lescott and Terry both had to be solid and Gerrard, with another inspiring display, demonstrated just why Hodgson made him captain.
We should also not get too far ahead of ourselves because victory against Italy has to be plotted and England still squander possession too easily, but a week ago a more-than-realistic chance of reaching the semi-finals would have been unthinkable.
Not now. That is the measure of Hodgson’s impact. In fact, there are those who dare dream of going all the way to the final a week on Sunday.If that is a touch premature then one thing is certain. Hodgson’s England are difficult to beat. And rusty Rooney will only get better. Stardust is something you cannot explain. Rooney has it. Hodgson has it. England are on a roll that will take some stopping.