Euro 2012 preview: England v Ukraine

Group D, Donetsk, kick-off 7.45pm (coverage starts 7pm ITV1)

Ukraine must beat England to qualify for the quarter-finals of their home tournament, but which England will they face? Old England, with their Wags, their atrocious positional play, their pointless long balls, their arrogance undimmed by repeated embarrassing capitulations? Or Roy Hodgson’s New England, with their family values, tactical awareness, youthful skill, home cooking and bookish, rhotacistic humility?


England’s chaotic match against Sweden was really a battle between the two Englands. Old England suddenly took over in the second half and began punting it aimlessly up to Andy Carroll, bumping into each other and sprinting towards or away from the Swedish goal inexplicably, suspending this random, panicky movement only to stand very, very still when the Swedes played free kicks into their box. 

On either side of that 20-minute Mr Hyde spasm, New England were miles better than Sweden and should be too good for Ukraine, whose reputation in this tournament rests totally on two moments of genius from Andriy Shevchenko in their first match.

Shevchenko is an injury doubt but Theo Walcott, who will be able to gambol politely past Ukrainian left-back Yevhen Selin whenever he likes, is fit to start. Plus, of course, Wayne Rooney is back from suspension with a fantastic new Beano-character hairdo, ready to team up with Manchester United team-mates Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck.

If New England can block out the fierce Donetsk crowd, keep their heads and stay watchful for Ukraine’s occasional speedy counter-attack, glory and a quarter-final against the so-so Italians could be theirs. What do you mean, if they get there they’ll capitulate embarrassingly? That’s Old England.

GROUP MATHS: England qualify with a draw but would then, unless France suffer a shock defeat to Sweden, face Spain in the quarters. If England and France both win it’s down to goal difference. England are a goal behind the French there so they’d need to win by two at least to top the group. If England lose they’re out unless Sweden hammer France.


PREDICTION: New England 2-1 Ukraine.