England advanced to the semi-finals of Euro 2020 in style with an emphatic 4-0 win over Ukraine in Rome.
The Three Lions made a dream start as Raheem Sterling slipped in Harry Kane to prod home in just the third minute, as the striker wasted no time in following up his goal against Germany in the previous round.
Declan Rice and Jadon Sancho saw shots saved while Ukraine improved and had a couple of chances themselves following England mistakes. Jordan Pickford was called into action to save Roman Yaremchuks’ low shot before half-time.
But any doubts were put to ease when Harry Maguire headed in Luke Shaw’s free kick moments after the restart, as England once again came flying out of the blocks.
Kane followed up Maguire’s goal with a header of his own, as he nodded home Shaw’s cross, before Jordan Henderson scored England’s fourth from a Mason Mount corner.
Here are five things we learned as England progressed to the last four…
Kane, and England, have lift off
It took Harry Kane well over 300 minutes to score his first goal of Euro 2020 – but after breaking his tournament duck against Germany, it took the England captain less than 300 seconds to get off the mark in his side’s next game of the tournament.
It was a classic Kane goal, an instinctive first-time finish after a clever run in behind, but it was also the sort of chance that the striker was missing before his breakthrough against Germany. It sparked a much-improved performance from the skipper. His all-round play was noticeably better, putting to bed any doubts over his fitness and confidence.
His confidence was certainly flowing following his second goal of the day, and he was denied a stunning hat trick after Heorhiy Bushchan made a spectacular save to stop his left-foot volley. The sight of Kane rediscovering his form and scoring touch also seemed to inspire his team-mates, as England sparked into life by putting four goals past their opponents.
Further credit must go to Sterling, as well, who set up Kane’s opener with an excellent run and pass, as his wonderful performances at these Euros continue. The early goal was crucial, as it has been throughout the knockout stages of Euro 2020. This was the 11th knockout tie out of 12 where the side who scored the first goal progressed to the next round.
England’s set-piece prowess returns
Harry Maguire’s 46th-minute header to double England’s lead shortly after the restart was a throwback to the Three Lions’ 2018 World Cup campaign. It was reminiscent of the Manchester United defender’s goal against Sweden in the quarter-finals, in a tournament where England scored an incredible nine goals from set-pieces.
Throughout the tournament, goals from corners and free-kicks gave England a boost, and their prowess from dead-ball situations returned against Ukraine as Maguire powered in England’s second from Shaw’s free-kick, before Henderson converted Mount’s corner. Maguire’s was a timely goal and gave England a huge lift in confidence shortly after half-time, with Kane adding their third moments later, while Henderson’s emphatically emphasised the point.
As England saw in 2018, set-piece goals are vital in knockout competitions and have often proved decisive in tight matches at major tournaments. It was therefore encouraging to see that side of England’s game emerge once more, and in some style, as they advanced to the last four.
Shaw stars as full backs given freedom
With two assists, Luke Shaw was one of England’s standout performers against Ukraine, in a match where England’s full backs were given much more freedom to join in with attacks that they had been earlier in the tournament.
During the group stages, when playing 4-2-3-1, Southgate’s hesitancy to allow his full-backs to push high was one of the criticisms levelled at the England manager – particularly in the 0-0 draw against Scotland.
Walker and Shaw were far more aggressive in their positioning here, with the left-back particularly involved in an attacking sense. Rice dropped back to join Maguire and Stones to enable both players to stay high and wide when England were in possession, which in turn allowed Sterling and Sancho to drift inside.
Walker had a couple of lapses defensively and wasn’t entirely convincing, but Shaw impressed again here following his display on the left side of England’s 3-4-3. It was encouraging to see Southgate give Shaw as much license to attack even in a back-four, and it paid off in a performance that was crucial to England’s win.
Sancho repays Southgate’s faith
Southgate made two changes to his side for this quarter-final tie as Mason Mount was recalled to the team following his period of self-isolation and Jadon Sancho was handed his first start of the tournament, days after his move to Manchester United was confirmed.
It was almost as if Southgate had waited until that deal was done before giving Sancho his first proper run out, and the 21-year-old was full of confidence as he impressed on his tournament debut.
Sancho was bright and caught the eye with a couple of dazzling dribbles, and seemed to provide England a good balance on the right. Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden have had their moments when given the chance on England’s right side, but Sancho seemed to provide something extra against Ukraine.
The winger has certainly come to the boil at the right time and looks like an early favourite to keep his place against Denmark, although Southgate could change up his formation.
Job done, now back to Wembley
After their jaunt to Rome to face Italy, England will be returning to Wembley with their best chance of reaching a final of a major tournament in 25 years.
The atmosphere in Rome was better than expected, with several thousand England fans making it into the Stadio Olimpico, but it will feel like nothing compared to the 60,000-plus crowd that is set to roar on the Three Lions against Denmark on Wednesday.
All of a sudden, England are in the semi-finals of what now feels like a home tournament for Southgate’s side.
The atmosphere at Wembley was lacking throughout the group stages but boosted by the additional capacity, and sparked to life by England’s win over Germany, they could not have asked for a better stage as they look to reach their first final since 1966.
It was an added bonus that Southgate was able to take off Rice and Phillips as England held a comfortable lead, as both players were suspension concerns ahead of the semi-finals.
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