The usual hysteria accompanying England in tournaments hasn’t really died down yet.
Yesterday morning Radio 5 interviewed someone who is apparently England’s leading Harry Kane lookalike, which reminded me of the old quip about ‘he’s got a face for radio’ – the chap might well have been the spit of Kane, but how the hell were us listeners supposed to know? That just about sums up the non-sporting media for me.
My approach to this preview is how potential this game has for being an upset. According to the most recent FIFA rankings Ukraine are the second weakest team left in the competition – only the Czechs are lower and that’s something that will definitely change when the next set are released – and have already lost twice in Euro 2020 including after they came back from a two goal deficit against Netherlands. They looked to be heading to penalties at Hampden the other day, but you have to say that the Swedes shot themselves in the foot.
It’s not the first time we’ve reached the quarter finals in the Euros, but the problem for us is that we haven’t got past them since 1996. We actually lost to both Portugal and Italy on penalties on the same date eight years apart but with all due respect I don’t think the current Ukraine team can be compared to either of the teams that beat us: both Portugal and Italy ended up as beaten finalists in Euro 2004 and Euro 2012 respectively.
As for Ukraine, this is very much uncharted territory. They reached the World Cup quarter finals in 2006 but have never got this far in a European Championship tournament. Ukraine have only beaten us once (in October 2009 – you may remember the furore about the game being pay per view and Robert Green being sent off) although our last victory against them was in a group game in Euro 2012 when Ukraine were co-hosts and Mario Devic had a perfectly good equaliser ruled out in the days before VAR would have given it:
Back to the present now and it’s worth pointing out that Ukraine have only won three of their last ten games over 90 minutes, having only kept clean sheets against Northern Ireland and Cyprus at home – they were actually losing at home to Bahrain in a pre-tournament friendly at the end of May. They seem to be very vulnerable in the first 15 minutes of the second half, having conceded 66% of their goals in last ten games in that period.
However, they’ve only failed to score once in those last ten games (against Austria in Bucharest in the group stage 12 days ago) and although Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleksander Zinchenko will be familiar to English fans, unless you follow Belgian football Roman Yaremchuck of Gent won’t be. Yet.
I think this may be an opportunity to send a genuine message to the rest of the competition in the same way that Italy did last night. The atmosphere will be less febrile in Rome than it has been at Wembley and that’s arguably a better setting for a calm, professional performance in Rome – especially as Ukraine will go for broke. I know I’m biased but I can’t see anything other than an England win.
Update: 4-0, not bad…on to Wednesday.