Rooney back for crucial clash with co-hosts.
The stakes are high. A quarter-final clash with the World and European champions Spain most likely awaits the winner in Donetsk. On paper, it is a mismatch: England are a side of Premier League stars (or prima-donas for the cynics), while their opponents have just two squad members that play outside of Ukraine.
However, the atmosphere is set to be white-hot inside the Donbass Arena as the natives look to cheer their nation into the next round.
If the English fans, media, manager and football association aren’t getting carried away already, they will be tonight if Wayne Rooney makes a match-winning return to the team against the co-hosts.
The Manchester United striker is set to be reinstated into an England side that has showed plenty of promise thus far, despite a disastrous twenty minutes against Sweden.
For Ukraine, focus in once again on Andriy Shevchenko.
Prediction: 2-1, England to march on.
Team news: The big news is Andriy Shevchenko is a doubt. The veteran striker has a 50-50 chance of featuring tonight, which could be great news for England, especially considering that this could be the 35-year-old’s last appearance for his country and that he is two goals away from 50 for Ukraine. The script appears to be written…
Story so far: Gotta be pleased. Shevchenko produced a special night, scoring twice as the co-hosts came from behind to beat Sweden 2-1 in their opener but the Ukrainians were comprehensively outplayed by France, going down 2-0.
What do they need: A win. Even if the French lose heavily, a draw will not be good enough for Ukraine, courtesy of their head-to-head record against Laurent Blanc’s side. Three points will likely see them finish runners-up – thus facing Spain – or even top the group, setting up a clash with Italy.
Soundbite: “It is the biggest game in the country’s history.” Former Liverpool striker Andriy Voronin explains the significance of tonight’s match.
Stat attack: Oleg Blokhin’s men are the only side at Euro 2012 without a British-based player in their squad. Only two players, Dynamo Moscow’s Andriy Voronin and Bayern Munich’s Anatoliy Tymoschuk, play outside of Ukraine.
What to expect:
Team news: Wayne Rooney returns. That much is clear. Who to drop – Danny Welbeck or Andy Carroll – remains a big decision for Hodgson. As does whether to start with Theo Walcott. The Arsenal speedster changed the game against Sweden with a goal and an assist but does not offer the same consistency or work-rate as James Milner.
Story so far: Better than expected. Hodgson’s men battled to a credible 1-1 draw against France before beating Sweden 3-2 in a topsy-turvy encounter. The defending has been pretty woeful at times but there’s plenty to be encouraged by.
What do they need: To avoid defeat. A draw would see England through, albeit more than likely as runners-up, meaning a clash with European and World Champions Spain. A win – depending on France’s result against Sweden – could see the Three Lions top the group, setting up a meeting with Italy.
Soundbite: “Roy seems to have that little bit of a Midas touch.” FA Chairman Sir Dave Richards gets carried away.
Stat attack: Against Sweden, all three of England’s scorers were aged 24 or younger. The last time three players that young all scored for the Three Lions was in the 6-1 win over Iceland in 2004.
What to expect: England to qualify…but to go about it the hard way.
FANCY A FLUTTER?
Outside bet: Shevchenko to score first, Ukraine win 2-1: 80/1