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Lucky England, French lucky loss could have been worse
by Paul Kennedy, June 20th, 2012 1:59AM
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TAGS:  england, european championship, france, sweden


[EURO 2012 WRAP] It took the easiest of goals -- a header from inside the six-yard box into an empty net after a cross deflected off two Ukrainian defenders and past goalie Andriy Pyatov -- for Wayne Rooney to celebrate his return to the England national team with the goal that gave it a 1-0 win over Ukraine and a spot in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals against Italy. The Ukrainians could have felt aggrieved by the fact that a certain goal by Marko Devic was not awarded, but they would have needed to have beaten England to advance. The England-Ukraine result meant that France's horrible evening against Sweden was irrelevant. The Bleus, 2-0 losers to Sweden, advanced and will face Spain in Sunday's quarterfinal.

Pyatov was the Ukrainian goat, letting Steven Gerrard's cross slip through his hands to the far post, where Rooney was waiting for the easiest of goals.

Referee Viktor Kassai and his Hungarian assistant monitoring the goal line were the Ukrainians' villains after they failed to spot that Devic's shot had crossed the line before being hooked clear by John Terry.

''I was sad because the ball was in the goal by one meter,'' Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin said.

Blokhin, who almost came to blows with a Ukrainian journalist after the game, said England was lucky.

"We played a very good game and even the England coach said they were lucky," the former Ballon d'Or winner said.  "I don't feel ashamed for this team. We conceded a lucky goal. We were able to equalize, but they didn't give it to us. Then we also played a very good game. England just played on the counterattack. In the second half, they had no opportunities. Their threat only came from a few set pieces, but it was just not our day. We didn't have any luck."

The UEFA tiebreakers meant that Ukraine needed to beat to overtake France, regardless of the Bleus' result against Sweden.

And the Bleus' loss would have a lot worse but for captain Hugo Lloris in goal, where he saved at least four sure goals after Zlatan Ibrahimovic's volley put Sweden ahead n the 54th minute.

French coach Laurent Blanc blamed the loss on his team being unable to match the Swedes in midfield and on defense, the Bleus' weak point that had heretofore been untested.

Things won't get any easier against Spain.

"We'll need an exploit to continue on," admitted Blanc.

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