Gerrard is the architect and inspiration for Hodgson's England
22:24 GMT, 19 June 2012
The cross arrived low and flat, as has been his style at this tournament. It took a nick here, a glance there, confounded Andriy Pyatov in Ukraine’s goal and there was England’s returning hero, the target in front of him like an old barn door off its hinges, just waiting to be headed in.
To Wayne Rooney the glory, but to Steven Gerrard the credit. He has a Champions League final as good as named in his honour, an FA Cup final victory, too. And perhaps this is going to be Gerrard’s European Championship campaign.
Stevie Wonder: Gerrard has been England's star performer at the Euros so far
It is Italy in Kiev next for England – Spain have been sidestepped – and while there is no such thing as an easy quarter-final opponent at this tournament, any game that does not necessitate beating the world champions is to be welcomed.
And while this is every inch a team effort, it is hard to deny the huge part being played in England’s progress by Gerrard.
He has been the architect and inspiration of this revival in the most trying circumstances under Roy Hodgson. Rooney’s goal was the third he had set up in as many games: one secured a point against France, one beat the hosts, one found the head of Andy Carroll as if guided by NASA technology against Sweden.
Put simply, Gerrard has been quite brilliant here this summer. He has been the player we have been waiting for; the player we have only truly seen with this consistency in the red of Liverpool.
Gerrard knows he has not always justified his stellar reputation for England. He appears almost inhibited at times, his pronouncements speaking of the love he feels playing for his country, his performances suggesting a man sometimes overwhelmed by expectation.
Credit manager Roy Hodgson with this current transformation then. Given the role of captain and complete faith in his ability to play box-to-box central midfield with the necessary discipline, Gerrard has thrived.
Hodgson has brought a level of
confidence out of him that had previously been missing. The role he has
occupied here is the one a succession of managers believed Gerrard could
not occupy. From Rafael Benitez to Fabio Capello, few have ever felt
able to trust Gerrard at the central heart of a 4-4-2.
Special delivery: Gerrard's crossing has been superb
It was felt he needed a posse of defensive midfield players to cover his tendency to wander. A playground footballer he was called, chasing the ball to all four corners, leaving fresh air where a body should be.
So what has changed Hodgson’s faith, certainly, has had immense impact. On the eve of matches when the pair do their duty as manager and captain, they are simpatico, Hodgson often throwing a question over for Gerrard to answer, affording him the responsibility his position deserves.
Maybe, too, Gerrard has changed. Benitez and Capello are not fools. The flaws they saw in Gerrard were not mirages. He did wander. He did lack discipline. When it came off – the night in Istanbul, the FA Cup final that he influenced as surely as Sir Stanley Matthews in 1953 – it was quite marvellous to watch.
When it did not, well, there were holes, there were deficiencies. Not any more. An older Gerrard, perhaps less able to maraud with such abandon, now strikes the perfect balance: and the perfect ball from wide.
For England in this tournament the combination has been lethal. Gerrard, his talent honed, has been devastatingly effective.
His crosses are Beckham-like, but not
Beckham-lite; no pale imitation but a thoroughly new and unique danger.
There is no player here hitting crosses and dead balls from wide like
Gerrard; not even Cristiano Ronaldo.
Close call: Hodgson's troops were pushed all the way by Ukraine
As for the armband that Capello once thought shrunk him – he regarded Gerrard as too timid to lead and only gave him the role when there was no other option, as in South Africa – he wears it now with all the pride of Popeye’s anchor tattoo.
It is as if he has ingested spinach and is spoling for a fight. Nobody bullies Gerrard in an England shirt here. He strode across the pitch at the Donbass Arena as imposingly as he did that night in Istanbul, or in Cardiff, dragging Liverpool back from the brink of another final defeat.
And how England needed him on Tuesday night. For, whatever the scoreline and the final group table suggest, this was far from a comfortable occasion for Hodgson and his men.
Ukraine played the better football for long periods, certainly in the first half, when the nimble forward play of Andriy Yarmolenko stretched England seemingly to the limit.
Not for the first time in Donetsk in this campaign, England spent much of the game looking second best. Yet, while the performance against France seemed to be a realistic acceptance of underdog status, here was an altogether more disconcerting turn of events. England’s possession statistic was 43 per cent, the same as Denmark enjoyed against Germany.
Shorn of Andriy Shevchenko from the start, Ukraine were no less threatening.
Never have Hodgson’s football reasons
when selecting John Terry been easier to justify. Yet Terry’s greatest
contribution was not actually a successful mission at all.
The ball that he hooked clear from Ukraine striker Marko Devic had, in fact, crossed the line.
Dangerman: Yarmolenko impressed for the hosts
Fortunately, nobody in a position of
influence noticed it: not referee Viktor Kassai, not his linesman and
not the man standing next to the goalpost. Which was a pity as that was
his only purpose for being near the pitch in the first place.
What a triumph for UEFA president
Michel Platini, who sat proudly in the main stand as another one of his
bright ideas was revealed to be as perfectly conceived as a chocolate
Only Platini could address the problem of human error in judging whether a ball has crossed the line and think the solution was to introduce more humans. Instead of goal-line technology, a form of the Hawk-Eye camera used in other sports, Platini came up with the bold notion of two extra officials to go with the four already in use.
Yet how brave do you think the fifth, maybe sixth, best official in Hungary is going to be in making a call that could knock a nation the size of England or France out of the European Championship
Platini’s man peered at Terry’s clearance and decided the defender had got there in time, which he hadn’t by about a foot.
It would not have made a difference to the table, which would still have sent England then France through even with a 1-1 draw.
Yet had Ukraine equalised it could have been a very awkward final 28 minutes for England. Instead, Hodgson, his team and his captain march on.
The country accepted it was getting a new manager for this tournament; it is the new player wearing the No 4 shirt who has come as such a welcome and unexpected bonus.
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