England take on Ukraine at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday for a place in the Euro 2020 semi-finals but vice-captain Jordan Henderson says anyone underestimating Andriy Shevchenko’s men are “delusional”.
The Three Lions are overriding favourites to reach the semi-finals having beaten rivals Germany 2-0 at Wembley in Tuesday’s last-16 encounter – and are even viewed now as tournament favourites by Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher.
But Henderson and manager Gareth Southgate are not taking anything for granted.
“It was a fantastic performance but we haven’t achieved anything yet and we’ve still got a long way to go,” Henderson said. “Full focus on Ukraine. It’ll be a really difficult test and anybody that says that it won’t be are delusional, really.
“I know people say ‘well, we beat Germany’ but you can’t underestimate the importance of this game and how hard good of a team Ukraine are and how hard it will be against them.
“We’re fully prepared and fully aware of that. We just need to go out there and give absolutely everything again and hopefully that’s enough to get us through.”
Social media was awash with videos showing Henderson celebrating against Germany but the midfielder says he was “probably the biggest party pooper” after the game.
The Liverpool captain knows what it takes to be successful and England are now having to play away from Wembley for the first time at Euro 2020.
“It’s a different challenge to what we’ve been used to over the past few weeks with it being at Wembley,” Henderson told the Official England Podcast.
“Maybe the atmosphere won’t be as good or there might be less fans in the crowd and things like that, but you’ve got to try and create your own atmosphere and your intensity on the pitch.
“That’s going to be important, and just focus on the game. I think a lot of us will be used to playing without any fans, within the past year or so anyway, so it’s nothing new.
“We’ve just got to go out there, put on a real good performance and if we do that then we’ll have a good chance of getting through to the semi-final.”
Southgate focused only on Ukraine
Southgate echoed Henderson at his press conference, insisting his side’s focus would not be distracted by a perceived favourable route through the knockout stage, with the Czech Republic or Denmark potential semi-final opponents.
“I can’t think of a country in the world that would do that for a quarter-final and especially not a country that’s only ever been to three semi-finals in its history. It would be a big error for us to be thinking about anything else and it would be an insult to Ukraine as well.
“We watched them a lot, particularly a year ago. We could see how well they use the ball, they have got a threat with their forwards and of course they’ve got tremendous spirit. They showed all of those things against Sweden.”
England will not have the home backing they have so far enjoyed but Southgate admits the 8pm kick-off could provide some respite and has called upon his players to generate their own momentum.
“[It will be a] different experience for us but our players are used to playing all season in front of no fans and having to create their own atmosphere.
“You need leaders on the pitch in those moments and we’ve got some very good leaders in our squad so it doesn’t matter too much to us. We know it’s a fantastic stadium to play in, a great venue, a great arena, an historic arena and we’re looking forward to playing the game.”
“I don’t think it will be as hot as the game with Croatia. We’ll be playing in the evening here which will give some respite. We are definitely used to handling those conditions but it will be important to use the ball well for certain.”
Ukraine: Winger Oleksandr Zubkov is set to miss out but Andriy Yarmolenko is fit despite coming off against Sweden with a knock.
England: Bukayo Saka is a doubt with what Southgate says is a “slight knock” but the England boss has no other injury problems to contend with.
Gareth Southgate is considering switching back to a defensive four when England play their Euro 2020 quarter-final against Ukraine in Rome on Saturday.
A number of selection issues for the match are still to be decided, including the composition of the defence.
Southgate used three centre-backs for the first time since November when England beat Germany 2-0 in the last 16 at Wembley on Tuesday. That shape was a deliberate tactic to nullify Josh Kimmich and Robin Gosens, Germany’s dangerous wing-backs.
Ukraine offer a different threat, and so Southgate might well switch again to a flat back four. England have conceded just one goal in their last eight internationals when using that system.
That would allow for an extra creative player in midfield for a game in which England are expected to dominate possession, with Mason Mount pushing hard for a recall now that he is back in full training with the squad after his 10-day isolation period.
That means Jack Grealish may have to settle for coming off the bench, as he did to such good effect against Germany.
Pushed on whether Foden and Grealish could play together, Southgate said: “Absolutely they can work together, they have played for us in the past together. We just have got such a strong array of attacking talent.
“I’ve said all along it’s impossible to keep everybody happy. It’s impossible to pick a team that everybody will agree with but we’ve got to pick the right players for the right moment.”
Can England’s stubborn defence make history?
England are only the second side in European Championship history not to concede in any of their first four games of an edition of the tournament, after Germany in 2016.
The only team to have kept a clean sheet in each of their opening five games of a World Cup or European Championship was Italy in 1990.
Bookings an issue for England…
Another key consideration for Southgate will be whether to risk those players currently on a yellow card in the tournament.
UEFA rules dictate that single cautions are only rescinded after the quarter-final stage and so Harry Maguire, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and Phil Foden would miss the semi-finals through suspension should they be booked against Ukraine and England progress.
It is far from ideal that both England’s first-choice holding midfield players – Rice and Phillips – have a booking to their name.
Southgate played down the quandary in his press conference, saying: “We won’t make any decisions based on yellow cards,” but Jordan Henderson could well get more minutes on Saturday.
Sky Sports News’ Jessica Creighton:
“Maguire has been such an important player for England, considering he missed seven weeks of football due to injury he’s slotted back in at centre back and really impressed. You would expect to see him start against Ukraine and that’s regardless of whether Southgate sticks with a back three or reverts back to a back four. He’s been so key and such an important player.
“Another player on a yellow card is Rice, who has formed a fantastic partnership with Kalvin Phillips as the two defensive-minded players in England’s midfield. He does all the hard work for the team in the centre of midfield, but he does like to put in a challenge, of course, and that might be in Southgate’s thinking as he tries to strike the balance of the risk of using him and the risk of him missing the semi-final if England were to beat Ukraine.
“Meanwhile, Southgate thinks very highly of Phillips. He’s played every minute of the tournament so far. He’s been brilliant for England, breaking up play in midfield and he’s doing a really good job of keeping the experienced Jordan Henderson out of the team.
“Henderson is another player having his minutes watched by Southgate because he again missed 14 weeks of the season through injury. He was injured during the Merseyside derby back in February and he is yet to reach full match fitness. Because of the brilliant displays of Phillips and Rice he has to fight for his place in the team, but I imagine he will play some part in this game because of the experience he brings.”
Will England go the distance again?
Each of England’s previous three quarter-final matches at the European Championship have gone to extra time and penalties.
After progressing from the first of these against Spain in 1996, England lost in penalty shootouts against Portugal in 2004 and Italy in 2012.
Allardyce: Defence can lead England all the way
It has been mentioned once or twice already… but the last tournament England went into their fifth game without conceding a goal was the World Cup in 1966.
Former England boss Sam Allardyce has praised his successor Southgate’s build-from-the-back approach and told Sky Sports their quality as a unit could take them all the way again.
He said: “The performances are getting better and better, but they are building a very solid base with this defensive unit. People might say they need to be more creative, yes, hopefully that will get better as the tournament goes on, but from a defensive point of view they’re putting themselves in a position to go all the way.
“They’ve conceded no goals, Raheem Sterling is the main man in terms of the scoring, Harry Kane has got off the mark, and hopefully he can go onto score more goals from there. Everything’s rosy at the moment, they have a big, big game on Saturday in Rome which pulls up different situations to cope with; the team, the system, the opposition, and of course no England fans being in the stadium. They have to get really mentally strong for that one.
“By the look of how he’s looked at the opposition first, he’ll look at that and decide which shape to keep up the defensive solidarity but also break down the Ukraine side. He may easily switch back to a back four, and the players are comfortable in both systems, they’ve proven that now. Being flexible is obviously a great asset for the team, and the team is obviously pulling altogether.
“The team spirit looks good, they look like they’re all getting on very well, which is a difficult task as England manager when there’s a lot of competition between them given the clubs they play at in the premier league. But this time it seems united, it seems a great spirit, and that helps an awful lot.”
Shevchenko expects Italian support
Andriy Shevchenko shares strong bonds with England as his family have continued to live in London since the former striker signed for Chelsea in 2006.
His son Kristian, who was born in London, is also on the books of Chelsea’s academy, while Shevchenko’s last international appearance came against England.
Having recently watched Chelsea beat Manchester City in the Champions League final, Shevchenko has no doubt about English football being the current dominant force in Europe.
“We understand clearly what team we’ll be playing tomorrow,” the former Ballon d’Or winner said. “I think English football is in its best moment right now.
“This England team are well balanced and have amazing players and I would like to note the work of my colleague (England manager) Gareth Southgate, who has indeed gathered an amazing group that plays modern football.”
In a bid to engineer Ukraine’s biggest win in major tournaments, Shevchenko has turned to his admirers in Italy, where he enjoyed his finest moments as a player with AC Milan, winning the Champions League in 2003.
While travelling supporters from the UK and Ukraine have been barred for the match in Rome due to COVID-19 curbs, Shevchenko is counting on the neutrals as well as a large Ukrainian immigrant population to cheer for his players.
“We do have a significant Ukrainian community and I invite them to come to the Stadio Olimpico to get behind the team,” Shevchenko said.
“I expect the Italians to support Ukraine as well.”
Ukraine came through a gruelling last-16 tie with Sweden but showed with their formation flexibility in that match that they could frustrate England on Saturday. Artem Dovbyk struck in the final minute of extra-time to clinch a 2-1 win at Hampden Park, just a few hours after England had dispatched Germany at Wembley.
But what can Southgate’s players expect to come up against in the Stadio Olimpico? Sky Sports football writer Oliver Yew gave us the lowdown on the Sky Sports Football Euros Podcast…
“Really, the big winner on Tuesday night at Hampden Park was England,” said Yew. “The match took it out of Ukraine and Sweden physically. But Ukraine did it when it mattered. Oleksandr Zinchenko produced a moment of magic, a superb cross, which was headed home by Dovbyk.
“We can talk about the fatigue and obviously it is a factor but there’s nothing that puts energy in the legs more than a last-minute winner, especially in the last minute of extra-time. It’s a Euro 2020 quarter-final, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for both sides. This is as far as Ukraine have got in a major tournament, so it is huge for them and they will be buzzing after this dramatic win.
“Zinchenko’s goal was a brilliant finish and the cross to set up the winner was another brilliant moment for him. Ukraine have also got Andriy Yarmolenko, who had a difficult season at West Ham, but he’s really a talismanic figure for them, he was brilliant throughout the group stages and he’s a key figure in everything he does. England will know all about him cutting in off the right flank and that left-footed shot and they will have to prepare for that.
“With Malinovskyi and Dovbyk, who got the winner, and Marlos and Viktor Tsyhankov they have got options on the bench. Shevchenko will look to use them too, especially with them playing 120 minutes tonight.
“Whether he freshens the team up, he will turn to that bench at some point in Rome. They have got threat, they are a technically good side, Shevchenko has shown he’s tactically aware and can change the system when required and it will be an interesting game and interesting to see how Southgate reacts to Ukraine.
“They are technically sound, a good footballing side, and you cannot underestimate Shevchenko’s role with this team. He’s a Ukraine legend and he inspires them. He will have them ready to go on Saturday night, that’s for sure. They will not be frightened of England, they will give it a go.”
Ukraine have ‘created own style’
Ukraine have reached the last eight of a European Championships for the first time since the country’s formation as a national team in 1992, with manager and legend Andriy Shevchenko taking credit for leading his side to the quarter-finals.
Former Ukraine international Yevhen Levchenko, who played with Shevchenko in the international team in the 2000s, said the style the ex-AC Milan and Chelsea striker has built is not pretty – but it has proven effective.
“Andriy Shevchenko is one of the most important people in Ukrainian football,” he told Sky Sports News. “He has done an amazing job with this team; we don’t play beautiful football, everybody knows it, but we create our own style. With this team, we have created a group who are really a team. That’s the most important impact he has had.”
Levchenko said he was hopeful Ukraine’s extra-time exploits to beat Sweden in their previous game would not have an adverse impact on the squad, which he feels cannot afford to be stretched.
“We only really have 12 top players, so it is very important to see how our leaders recover from the last game. I don’t think Shevchenko will step away from five defenders, I think we’ll play that system again, it fits us very well against strong opponents,” he said.
“Zinchencko and Yarmolenko are the stars, but we have a good first team. The young player, Zabarnyi, he’s 18 years old but has had a very strong tournament. Next to him, Matviyenko, he will play against Kane, I think, he is also playing very well. Bushchan, our goalkeeper, has saved us many times, and is like an angel for us in goal. Malinovskyi, also, who plays for Atlanta, is another star of the team.”
Sky Sports‘ Russ Taylor, who has worked for Ukrainian TV and media, has picked out two players to keep an eye on…
“Ukraine need their big players to step up and one who has been a little disappointing, who has been linked to the Premier League, is Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi. He’s an attacking midfielder, a really gifted player, who can shoot from range, set up goals. They need more from him because he was left out in games recently.
“The other one, who has done well in this tournament players in Belgium with Ghent, called Roman Yaremchuk. He’s an out-and-out No 9. Ukraine have been craving this.
“When you think of Ukraine you think of Shevchenko and Serhiy Rebrov but what they have really lacked recently is a No 9 and a goal scorer. Yaremchuk has done that in this tournament. He’s another one who I think will come to the Premier League and people are watching him. They need him to take his chances.”
Opta stats – Can Ukraine upset the odds?
- England have lost just one of their seven meetings with Ukraine in all competitions (W4 D2), going down 0-1 in October 2009 in a World Cup qualifier. The last two games between the sides have finished level, with this the first meeting since September 2013 (0-0 in Kiev).
- England and Ukraine have met a major tournament once before, with the Three Lions winning 1-0 in the group stages of EURO 2012, thanks to a Wayne Rooney goal.
- Ukraine have scored just three goals in their seven meetings with England, and never more than once in a match. The last four meetings between the sides have produced just four goals in total (2 each).
- Ukraine’s only previous quarter-final appearance in a major tournament ended in a 3-0 defeat to Italy in the 2006 World Cup. Ukraine have won two of their last three European Championship matches, more than they had in their first seven in the competition (W1 L6).
- Raheem Sterling has scored three of England’s four goals at EURO 2020 so far, while only two players have ever scored more for the Three Lions in a single edition at the tournament – Alan Shearer in 1996 (5) and Wayne Rooney in 2004 (4).
- Andriy Yarmolenko has either scored (two) or assisted (three) five of Ukraine’s eight European Championship goals. Indeed, five goal involvements is level with Andriy Shevchenko (4 goals, 1 assist) for the most by a Ukraine player at major tournaments (World Cup & EUROs).
Tuesday July 6
Semi-final 1: Belgium or Italy vs Spain; Kick-off 8pm (Wembley, London)
Wednesday July 7
Semi-final 2: Ukraine or England vs Czech Republic or Denmark; Kick-off 8pm (Wembley, London)
Sunday July 11
Kick-off 8pm (Wembley, London)
Jamie Carragher: England are now favourites | Germany win verdict and team selection vs Ukraine | Other quarter-finals assessed
After beating Germany, England are now favourites to go on and win Euro 2020. That was Jamie Carragher’s verdict when he joined the Sky Sports Football Euros Podcast to reflect on England’s historic win over their old rivals at Wembley. He explains why that win could propel Gareth Southgate’s side to new heights and also assesses the key performers in the squad and how the manager may shake things up again for the quarter-final with Ukraine.
In part two of the show, Peter Smith is joined by Sky Sports football writer Charlotte Marsh and Sky Sports data editor Adam Smith to examine the three other quarter-finals and work out who will go through from the ties involving Switzerland vs Spain, Belgium vs Italy, and Czech Republic vs Denmark.