England’s passage to the European Championship soccer quarterfinals as a group winner was eased by a measure of good fortune and controversy in a victory against co-host Ukraine.
England advanced to a meeting with Italy on June 24 after benefiting from a goalkeeping blunder and a refereeing error in a 1-0 win in Donetsk last night. Ukraine was denied a tying goal in the second half when the match officials failed to spot the ball crossing the goal line before being cleared.
England’s victory came two years after officials failed to award a goal when Frank Lampard’s shot against Germany in the World Cup was shown by video replays to have crossed the line. Lampard’s effort would have tied the round-of-16 match, which Germany went on to win 4-1.
“To be successful in these tournaments, because of the standard of teams involved, you need that bit of luck going with you,” England captain Steven Gerrard told reporters. “Two years ago we didn’t get that luck with Frank Lampard’s goal, a big turning point in that game against Germany, and we ended up packing our bags and going home. Today, the luck turned.”
An assistant referee patrolling the goal line about eight yards (7 meters) away didn’t award a goal. Tournament organizer UEFA, whose president Michel Platini has lobbied against the introduction of goal-line technology to assist in such matters, is employing an extra official at each end of the field for the first time at the four-yearly championship.
“There are five referees on the pitch and the ball is 50 centimeters behind the goal line,” Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin said at a news conference. “Why do we need five officials?”
Soccer’s lawmaking body, the International Football Association Board, will decide July 5 whether to introduce goal- line technology after nine months of testing whittled the options down to two systems. FIFA, the sport’s governing body, tweeted a reminder about the IFAB meeting in Zurich after last night’s match.
Blatter had opposed the technology until the Lampard incident, saying he preferred a uniform set of rules to dictate matches from elite competitions down to the grass-roots level. FIFA had been criticized by fans, players and match officials over its failure to adopt video or computerized ways of monitoring the ball’s flight.
Next month’s meeting will come too late for Ukraine and Blokhin, who railed at officials at a press conference in which he offered to fight a local journalist who questioned his team’s fitness.
Ukraine needed to win last night to stand a chance of advancing. France, which had led Group D going into the final round of games, dropped into second place and a meeting with defending champion Spain after its 23-match unbeaten run ended in a 2-0 loss in Kiev to Sweden, which had already been eliminated.
England, which had been outplayed in the first half, got the only goal from Wayne Rooney three minutes after the break. The recalled striker headed into an empty net when goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov failed to gather in Gerrard’s twice deflected cross.
Coach Roy Hodgson said England was due a change in fortune at a major tournament, citing Lampard’s shot against Germany and the referee’s decision in the Euro 2004 quarterfinals to disallow a Sol Campbell goal against host Portugal that would have put England 2-1 ahead. The English lost in a penalty shootout following a miss by David Beckham.
“We don’t have goal-line technology and, even with slow motion, people can’t be 100 percent certain,” Hodgson told reporters. “We’ve suffered pretty much bad luck in those areas, against Portugal and Germany, so if it was good luck today then we got it.”
Hodgson was able to pick Rooney after he was suspended for the opening two games against France and Sweden. He hadn’t scored for England in a tournament since getting two as an 18- year-old against Croatia on June 21, 2004.
The rustiness showed early on when he misplaced passes and failed to head in a cross from Manchester United teammate Ashley Young when left free.
Rooney’s luck turned when Gerrard tricked his way down the right past Andriy Yarmolenko and hit a cross that eventually found its way to the striker.
“My overall game could’ve been a bit better but it’s difficult to play a first game for a while,” Rooney told reporters. “The one thing I was delighted with was that I was always putting myself in goal-scoring opportunities. I could’ve done better with a couple more but I got the goal.”
Rooney’s header muted the cries of support from the home crowd at the 56,000-seat Donbass Arena, which included Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Rinat Akhmetov, the owner of Shakhtar Donetsk, who play at the stadium. Blokhin said his players hadn’t let their country down.
“We played a very good game and even the England coach said they were lucky,” he said. “I don’t feel ashamed for this team.”
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