England beat Germany for the first time since 1966 in a major global tournament. Harry Kane came through and scored in one of the most important matches of his career. His last goal was at the same venue on 31st March against Poland. Now the squad heads to Rome for their next step toward Euro 2020 glory on Saturday.
The dreams are alive to become European champions. Gareth Southgate outlined the fans helped towards the win, “They were behind every challenge, they were behind every time we pressed the ball, they were behind every run we had and the energy was incredible in the stadium.”
However, for the first time in the Euro’s, those fans will be on the bench for tonight’s match. Due to current Covid restrictions in Italy the Italian embassy in London released a statement saying, “Anybody who has been in the UK in the previous 14 days, irrespective of their nationality or residency will not be admitted to the stadium, even if they have a ticket.”
Italy is on the amber list. Supporters would have to prove they arrived in Italy at least six days prior and observed five days of quarantine. Without the support of the fans England will have to create their own atmosphere in Rome. Though after a year of playing in empty stadiums the squad may be better prepared for a largely neutral crowd.
When the sides of the knock-out bracket were finalised many felt Germany was the biggest hurdle in a path to the final. Ukraine have only won one of their seven matches against England. The teams’ first meeting was a 2000 a friendly match where England won 2-0. Both Southgate and Ukraine head coach Andriy Shevchenko played for their respective nations. The two sides last faced each other during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Ukraine are a capable team, finishing top of their qualifying group ahead of Portugal to qualify for Euro 2020. In the last 12 months they have beaten Spain and nabbed a 1-1 draw against world champions France. Their storied leader Shevchenko is trying to make more history. He is Ukraine’s all time top goal scorer and 2004 Ballon d’Or winner. He was appointed to this coaching role after a disastrous Euro 2016 where Ukraine lost all three group matches. This time round his team has made history by reaching the knockout stages of European Championship for the first time.
Ukraine mostly lines up in a 4-3-3 formation. Their game plan is built around two crucial midfielders, Man City attacker Oleksandr Zinchenko and Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi. The latter is the engine of the midfield and drives the team forward. He dictates the tempo for Ukraine and is essential for retaining possession.
England go into the match as favourites and a win on Saturday would be their second trip to the semi-finals of European Championships. The victory can’t be assumed after The Three Lions were knocked out by Iceland in 2016. Fans hope this young fearless group will continue to create history as they did by defeating Germany.
Southgate would quietly know he has the most favourable quarter-final pairing. It could be a chess match of strategy with both teams making adjustments throughout the tournament. England changed their formation from 4-2-3-1 during the group stages to 3-4-3 against Germany. Most analysts expect The Three Lions switching to back four. Shevchenko has altered his side in the last four matches. During the group stages Ukraine formation was 4-3-3 and changed to 3-5-2 against their win with Sweden.
That begs the question, with a superior squad will Southgate play to England’s strengths or play not to lose. Ukraine comes in an exhausted side after extra time against Sweden when couple of players, Serhiy Kryvtsov and Artem Besyedin, went down with injuries.
Saturday’s match will be the biggest in Ukraine’s history and they will come into the game as clear underdogs. However, England must now face the burden of expectation, the hope of a nation, and the ire of supporters of the nations they have left in their wake.