England – with the returning Wayne Rooney – take on the desperate co-hosts Ukraine the Donbass Arena in Donetsk today, knowing that a point is enough be enough to take them through to the last eight of the tournament.
Three Lions head coach Roy Hodgson will definitely pick talismanic striker Wayne Rooneyand he is facing the classic dilemma of who to drop to make way for him. Rooney will return to the team on Tuesday after completing his two-match suspension following his red card against Montenegro in Podgorica eight months ago. Either his Manchester United team-mate Danny Welbeck or Liverpool striker Andy Carroll will lose his place in the starting line-up. Carroll scored with a header and Welbeck cleverly flicked home the winner when England beat Sweden 3-2 on Friday which put them in sight of the last eight. “They have given me the classic manager’s headache but it’s the headache we all want really, because they are players are in-form and competing for a place,” said the former West Brom and Liverpool boss.
Oleh Blokhin’s side, on the other hand, need to win to make it past the group stage, so tensions will be high in what is sure to be an electrifying atmosphere. During the pre-match press conference, Blokhin said the pressure was on Ukraine’s opponents given their higher status in the game and greater expectations. “They are one of the favourites, so the pressure is on them,” he said. “We have a more relaxed approach, we have nothing to lose, even if we don’t get a great result, if we show fight on the pitch till last minute that will be no disgrace,” he said.
With Wayne Rooney returning from his suspension, Hodgson has a clean bill of health in his squad with Theo Walcott available after a hamstring niggle. And the 64-year-old is content that expectation levels are rising in England after the opening two games which have garnered four points, but he can give no guarantee of success.
Meanwhile, Ukraine are sweating over the fitness of team captain Andriy Shevchenko who is rated as a “50-50 chance” of recovering from a knee injury in time for the decisive Group D clash. Shevchenko completed a squad training session on Monday, having sat out training the previous day because of a swollen left knee. But he remains an injury doubt and Blokhin says he will only decide whether or not to play the striker shortly before the match.
Played – 4
England Wins – 3
Draws – 0
Ukraine Wins – 1
England – WDWWL
15-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Sweden 2-3 England
11-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – France 1-1 England
02-Jun-12 – Friendly – England 1-0 Belgium
27-May-12 – Friendly – Norway 0-1 England
01-Mar-12 – Friendly – England 2-3 Netherlands
Ukraine – LWLLW
15-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Ukraine 0-2 France
11-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Ukraine 2-1 Sweden
05-Jun-12 – Friendly – Turkey 2-0 Ukraine
01-Jun-12 – Friendly – Austria 3-2 Ukraine
28-May-12 – Friendly – Ukraine 4-0 Estonia
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
Wayne Rooney (England)
The tournament finally starts for Wayne Rooney, as he is back and eager to play after serving a two match suspension. England have managed very well without him in the first two matches, but the Manchester United star is by far Three Lions’ most talented player in the squad. The 26-year-old, who has 35 goals for Manchester United this season, broke onto the scene in UEFA EURO 2004 scoring four goals, but his participation was cut short with an injury as England were dumped out by Portugal on penalties. And, with England failing to qualify for the UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria/Switzerland, Rooney has some unfinished business in the tournament. He will play in the role behind the striker, and will be the key link between the midfielders and the forward.
Ashley Young (England)
Young was tipped to fill in Wayne Rooney’s boot for the first two matches, when the striker was suspended for picking up a straight red card in the final qualifier against Montenegro, but the Manchester United winger failed to do. With his United colleague coming back from suspension, the pressure will be released from Young’s shoulder and that will probably make him play his natural game. The former Watford and Aston Villa man averages a goal and an assist every three game for England and his form will be key to their further success in the tournament.
Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine)
Ukraine’s progidigal son has the backing and support of the whole nation and he answered their rallying cry against Sweden in the opening game scoring twice and helping the co-hosts register a historical win. The AC Milan legend has 50-50 chance of playing in this game due to injury but the striker would be very eager to play as this could be his final game for his country. The poacher is not getting any young and many may say his is past his days but he still has the knack of scoring some important goals and that’s what his country needs as they stand on brink of elimination.
Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (Ukraine)
Andriy Shevchenko may be the most important player to his country, but Tymoshchuk is not less important. The Bayern Munich midfielder who has 118 international caps to his name will be an key figure in the center of midfield as he will be the man looking to stop both Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard from creating chances. If the former Zenit St Petersburg man can do his job of nullifying the threats of the England duo, then Ukraine might have a chance of getting something out of this game or even may be upsetting the Three Lions.
England (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole; Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard (C); Theo Walcott, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young; Danny Welbeck.
Wayne Rooney will return to the starting XI after sitting out of the first two matches due to suspension. He will take Andy Carroll’s place in the lineup and play just behind his Manchester United teammate Danny Welbeck. Theo Walcott, whose match-winning cameo helped England knock Sweden out of the competition, has recovered from a slight injury and could start on the right wing with James Milner dropping to the bench. Ashley Young has been very unimpressive so far but will start on the left wing, with Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard in the center of the midfield. The back four will remain the same as Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott and Ashley Cole will form the quartet ahead of Joe Hart’s goal.
Ukraine (4-2-3-1): Andriy Pyatov; Oleg Gusev, Yevhen Khacheridi, Taras Mikhalik, Yevhen Selin; Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Serhiy Nazarenko; Andriy Yarmolenko, Andriy Voronin, Yevhen Konoplyanka; Andriy Shevchenko (C).
Andriy Shevchenko is a major doubt for this match with a knee injury but will be given all chance of proving his fitness and will mostly start keeping in mind this is a must win game for Ukraine and this could also be his last ever game for his country. If Shevchenko fails the late fitness test then Oleg Blokhin is likely to turn to Artem Milevskiy or Marko Devic to play as the lead striker ahead of Andriy Voronin. Blokhin has played the same defence and midfield in both games so far and no changes are expected, with Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Serhiy Nazarenko shielding the back four, with the young Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko playing on the wings.
England 1/1 Draw 12/5 Ukraine 11/4
With Wayne Rooney returning, England are huge favourites to win the game but playing for a draw could be very dangerous. Wayne Rooney will start and will be key man, as he has the ability to greatly influence the game playing in the whole behind the striker. The onus will be on the co-hosts Ukraine, as they must win this and get all three points to qualify for the last eight or else they are out. A early goal for Oleh Blokhin’s side may cause some tensions in the English camp, but with the solid organise defence England have got, can’t see that happening. England will dominate the game from start to end, with Rooney making his presence felt.
Predicted Score – England 2-0 Ukraine