English perspective: Iain Macintosh
It’s most perturbing to be a Englishman this summer. After years of watching teams packed with dormant talent performing wildly below their potential, I don’t really know what to make of this lot. They’re not really very good at football, but they do seem to try hard and that’s all I’ve ever asked as a supporter. It’s actually a lot like watching Southend, this.
More than enough has been written about those ‘two banks of four’ for me to give tactics a wide berth this week. England’s strength – and it feels so, so strange to type this – is their mental fortitude. To come back from 1-2 down to Sweden when I believed them to be down and out was genuinely impressive. They don’t panic, they don’t crumble and if they carry on like this, forging decent results in the white heat of pressure, they might just secure the pre-tournament aim of a dignified quarter-final exit.
Of course, the last two matches will mean nothing at all if they lose to Ukraine in the final game. It’s certainly going to be a risky encounter, especially with that home support. That said, I’m starting to feel an odd sense of confidence in Roy Hodgson’s mob, a weird vibe that they might be able to stand in front of tens of thousands of baying hostiles and hold the line. I realise, of course, that believing in the English football team is a phenomenon that almost always precedes a crashing disappointment and weeks of self-loathing, but what the hell. Yes, England can get the draw they need. In fact, sod it, they can sneak a 1-0 win. There, I’ve said it. Oh God, what’s become of me?
Score prediction: England 1-0 Ukraine
England to win at 2.05; England 1-0 at 8.00; Wayne Rooney to score first at 5.75.
Ukrainian perspective: Matthew Harris
The equation for Ukraine is simple: beat England and qualify for the quarter finals or fall at the first hurdle. Without wanting to sound obvious, the key to making that prospect a reality is one man – Andriy Shevchenko. Without the quality of service that Sheva received in the 2-1 win over Sweden, the Ukrainians looked tame opponents. Wide men Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka saw little of the ball and when they had the opportunity, their service was woeful. Even so, Shevchenko created his side’s best chances, almost from nothing, and the co-hosts’ fans will be desperately hoping that the former Chelsea and Milan striker isn’t struggling for fitness after two games in a week.
Assuming his captain and main threat is fit, Oleh Blokhin may well be considering some changes in personnel ahead of this match. Andriy Voronin was ineffective against France and might lose his place to the more physical Artem Milevskiy.
In midfield, Oleksandr Aliyev was another second half substitute, heralded as one of the best free kick takers in Europe before he blasted his one chance high over the bar. The Dynamo Kiev midfielder is a genuine threat, however, and his delivery from set pieces provides a number of opportunities for Shevchenko at club level. It would be a surprise if Blokhin wasn’t considering using him from the start.
At the back, suspect temperaments have held so far, but the defence looks weak and the margin of defeat to France could easily have been bigger. Taking into account England’s potent attacking play against Sweden, it’s impossible to see Ukraine lasting 90 minutes here without conceding.
In a sense, both sides could be evenly matched, boasting dangerous attacking forces and suspect defences. I feel that Ukraine can exploit this and take full advantage of a glorious opportunity to progress to the quarter finals.
Score prediction: Ukraine 2-1 England
Ukraine to win at 3.50; Shevchenko to score first at 8.50; Scott Parker to get a card at 4.00.