England are in the quarterfinals of Euro 2020 but the euphoria in the home of football might suggest that the Three Lions have actually gone all the way. Gareth Southgate’s team have a long way to go to lay their hands on the trophy. They must win three matches on the trot. The path to the final appears to be easy but football is a funny game that saw Switzerland dump France out.
England will be missing home comforts for the first time in the tournament, as they will take on Ukraine at Rome. Wembley or not, they have an edge in the last eight match. Beating Germany in the previous round has instilled self-belief in the youthful English team. The fact that England are yet to concede a goal in the tournament will not be lost on anyone.
Raheem Sterling, who had many critics before the tournament, is England’s go-to man in the forward line. Not only has he scored three of his team’s four goals; the Manchester City striker has been a buzzing presence in all the four matches. He knows it is his tournament. Captain Harry Kane has also opened his account and it should bode well for England.
England’s back line, including goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, has been outstanding so far. Southgate’s reluctance to hand a starting place to Jack Grealish is baffling. Easily the most popular player among fans, the Aston Villa midfielder had a hand in both the goals against Germany. An attacking quartet of Grealish, Foden, Kane and Sterling will please the English faithful the most.
Although Southgate has done his job competently, calling him a tactical genius would be disingenuous. The truth was Germany were so bad that England didn’t have to do anything extraordinary to beat them.
Ukraine’s greatest advantage is they are under no obligation to advance to the semi-finals. Reaching the last eight itself was an achievement for Andriy Shevchenko’s team. A lot will ride on captain Andriy Yarmolenko who has been one of the best all-round players of the tournament with two goals and three assists.
Yarmolenko has an able ally in Roman Yaremchuk, who might feel at home in the Italian capital because of his first name. Oleksandr Zinchenko is another player who will be vital for Ukraine with his probing crosses from the left.
England: Raheem Sterling: He is everywhere — right, left and centre. And, he cannot stop scoring. Sterling has a chance to become a legend if he keeps up his rich vein of form.
Ukraine: Andriy Yarmolenko: The captain holds the key. As his team have nothing to lose, Yarmolenko must be adventurous up front.
Formation: England: 4-2-1-3 or 3-4-3. Ukraine: 3-5-2
(The writer has covered the Fifa World Cup from South Africa, Brazil and Russia)