Ukraine v England | Saturday 3rd July 2022, 20:00 | BBC
After a Tuesday to remember, which saw England defeat Germany for the first time in a knockout game since that historic day in 1966, attentions for Gareth Southgate’s men turn to Rome as they take on Ukraine for a place in the last four of Euro 2020.
Ukraine had their own memorable Tuesday as a last gasp strike in extra time secured their quarter final berth, which represents their joint-best major tournament appearance. Can they go one better and spoil the English delirium? Or will Sterling, Kane and co keep the ‘It’s Coming Home’ dream alive?
We’ll firstly touch on England, who are now only the second team to have ever opened a European Championship campaign without conceding a goal in their opening four games. Ironically, the other team to do so was Germany back at Euro 2016, whilst the only other time England managed to do this was also in 1966, which for anyone who doesn’t know, was when England won the World Cup!
Germany started the game brightly and began to ask some questions of an England side that switched to a three-man defence for the first time in the tournament. First half yellow cards to central midfield duo Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice wasn’t ideal, but as the half progressed England began to threaten, with Harry Maguire’s header the best opportunity.
The best opportunity though fell to Chelsea’s Timo Werner, who brought the best out of Jordan Pickford, but Harry Kane’s mis-control from close range then denied him breaking his mini scoring draught.
Another Chelsea man, Kai Havertz, who be the next to test Pickford in the second half, and just when it seemed we all began to think about extra time, Southgate introduced Jack Grealish to the pitch. Less than ten minutes later, England opened the scoring when Raheem Sterling continued his fine scoring form from close range.
Time would then stand still as Thomas Muller charged through on goal, one-on-one with Pickford, only to drag his effort wide. This miss proved costly, especially as Kane nodded in the second to spark pandemonium in the capital.
The betting had England as favourites for this game, but it probably didn’t feel like that amongst the fans. Now, England are huge favourites to beat Ukraine, and bear in mind they no longer have the home comforts of Wembley behind them. That being said, the draw has clearly opened up rather nicely for them, and they’ll be desperate to make the most of this opportunity.
Ukraine had a rollercoaster game of their own at Hampden Park when getting the better of Sweden. Ukraine were the underdogs on the night and Andriy Shevchenko’s side certainly played their part in a rather open game at times, although perhaps chances were a little few and far between for fairly lengthy spells.
An extra time red card to Sweden’s Marcus Danielson proved the turning point, as Ukraine laid siege on the Swedish goal for the ten minutes afterwards, and that pressure told in the end thanks to Artem Dovbyk’s header.
The feeling I get is that this victory looked to be ‘the tournament’ for Ukraine. Now they have matched their best-ever finish at the competition, it is almost mission accomplished for them. Of course they won’t now suddenly take the England game lightly, after all, are they realistically going to get the opportunity again? But, I just wonder if they have already climbed the mountain to get to this stage.
If anything, this game is perhaps more about the mind-set of the players more than anything, on both teams.
As mentioned, England are now huge favourites here, on an occasion that they are not used to being in. Man-for-man, they are stronger than Ukraine, a Ukraine side who switched to a three-man defence themselves for the Sweden game for the first time, so it could turn quite tactical should Southgate also remain in a 3-4-3.
Should both stick with their respective formations, I could lead to quite a tight affair. Much has been mentioned in the competition about England not ‘going for it’, but this is a game that you’d feel they have to, especially given their clear superiority in comparison, although who are we to question Gareth Southgate!
I’m not necessarily expecting a one-way traffic sort of game, but you would fancy England to find a way. They are odds-on this Saturday, so we’ll have to be a little creative if we want to side with the Three Lions this weekend.
Speaking as an Englishman, before the Sweden v Ukraine game, I was hoping Ukraine would get through as Sweden have to ability to really kill a game with their organised approach and felt England may have some issues breaking them down.
However, Ukraine had no such issues doing that, and the Ukrainians do have the individual talent to cause a problem or two to England. Andriy Yarmolenko, Ruslan Malinovskyi, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Roman Yaremchuk are the names to really watch out for.
Despite reaching this stage, England are actually positioned third-worst in the entire tournament for shots on goal, only beating Finland and Hungary. They’re still averaged 57% possession though, so Ukraine know exactly what they have to do if they want to frustrate. Ukraine are averaging the joint-sixth lowest possession number, but they’ve only had three more shots than England, so maybe this could be a bit of a dull-affair. There is plenty on the line however, and anything can happen.
My first play will be Draw/England HT/FT at 33/10 (SBK), as I just feel both will cancel each other out in the opening stages. England not being at Wembley could take a little bit of time to get used to as well, but with the quality they have on show I just have to back them to find a way in the end, just as they have managed so far.
I think we’re all expecting England to dominate the ball in this one, with Ukraine relatively happy to sit back and attempt to frustrate their superior opponents. With that being the case, it could be that England are forced more into the wide areas to try and breakdown what will be a stubborn defensive unit.
The Ukrainians should have a three-man defence once again, so expect it to be congested in central areas. I fancy this will only help the corner count, and England -2 Corner Handicap at 1/1 (William Hill) I suspect will pay off, especially with Ukraine unlikely to get forward too regularly, either.
My final tip is a Price Boost selection I saw that caught the eye, and I do like the look of Harry Maguire to score a header in 90 minutes at 16/1 (Sky Bet). He should have done exactly that at least once in the Germany game, and now he has had a few games under his belt he looks to be back to his best after his injury worries. Set pieces are crucial in every game, but certainly in a match-up such as this.
Ukraine vs England – Draw/England HT/FT (33/10 SBK)
Ukraine vs England – England -2 Corner Handicap (1/1 William Hill)
Ukraine vs England – Harry Maguire to score a header in 90 minutes (20/1 Sky Bet)