England scraped through to the Euro 2012 quarterfinals with a 1-0 win over co-hosts Ukraine courtesy of a Wayne Rooney header and a questionable decision to disallow a goal for Ukraine.
Italy await Roy Hodgson’s men in the quarterfinals because Sweden’s 2-0 win over France means that England win the group.
Despite preserving an unbeaten record in the group stage of a European Championships for the first time since 1996, England spent much of the match on the back foot, just as in their 1-1 draw with France and 3-2 win over Sweden.
Rooney, returning from a two-game ban, put England ahead just after the break when Steven Gerrard’s deflected cross deceived Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov, allowing Rooney to nod in from point-blank range for his 30th England goal.
Ukraine’s Marko Devic saw his shot cross the line on 62 minutes but it was not counted as the referee decided it had not crossed the line, despite clear evidence to the contrary, in a decision that reignites the debate over goal-line technology.
Ukraine were unbowed, however, and pushed for the win they needed to see them through as coach Oleg Blokhin threw on three attacking substitutes.
It was not to be for Ukraine, and they exited their home tournament from third place in the group.
England took time to settle, and could have gone behind on numerous occasions in the first half, especially early on when a misplaced pass by Glen Johnson ended up allowing Marko Devic to shoot from edge of box, but his effort was well blocked by Scott Parker.
Ukraine peppered Joe Hart’s goal with several long-range efforts, from Denys Garmash’s shot across the bows on seven minutes, through inaccurate blasts from Yaroslav Rakitskiy and Anatoly Tymoshchuk, before Oleh Gusev’s fierce 22nd-minute drive flew a foot over the bar.
Rooney got his first sight of goal on 24 minutes, but he went down under a challenge from Garmash before he could get his head to Steven Gerrard’s cross.
The Manchester United man went closer four minutes later, as a ball from Ashley Young found him free at the far post, but he nodded wide.
Ukraine’s biggest threat towards the end of the first half was midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko, who burst past Ashley Cole on the half-hour mark before testing Hart with a low shot that the Manchester City man stretched to save and did well to hold.
Yarmolenko was a thorn in England’s side again two minutes before the break, dribbling past John Terry and Parker before being dispossessed by Lescott as he lined up to shoot.
The match sparked into life after Rooney scored, and he could have had a second when he broke free of the Ukrainian defense on 53 minutes but for the pace of Yarmolenko, who stalled him long enough for the rest of the Ukrainian team to arrive, and the chance fizzled out.
The hosts pushed back, but Artem Milevskiy wasted their best chance of the game so far with an off-target header from three yards out.
Ukraine piled on the pressure after their equalizer was denied.
Attacking substitutions from Blokhin, including the introduction of talismanic striker Andriy Shevchenko on 70 minutes, meant that England struggled to hold back the tide.
Joe Hart spilled a stinging long shot from Yevhen Konoplyanka and was fortunate that Lescott was able to knock the ball behind as Shevchenko charged in to shoot on the rebound.
England continued to mount occasional expeditions in search of a second, and Rooney could have claimed it on 75 minutes, but his header from Gerrard’s corner was aimed straight at Pyatov.
Serhiy Nazarenko fired a long shot over Hart’s goal with nine minutes remaining as Ukraine kept up the pressure.
Yarmolenko missed the target on 90 minutes, before Ukraine appealed for a penalty, claiming handball against Terry, but the referee was unmoved.
England: Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole, James Milner (Theo Walcott 70), Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker, Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 87), Danny Welbeck (Andy Carroll 82).
Ukraine: Andriy Pyatov, Yevhen Selin, Yevhen Khacheridi, Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Anatoly Tymoshchuk, Denys Garmash (Serhiy Nazarenko 78), Oleh Gusev, Andriy Yarmolenko, Yevhen Konoplyanka, Artem Milevskiy (Bohdan Butko 78), Marko Devic (Andriy Shevchenko 70).