PREVIEW – England v Ukraine – Is it coming home or another year of hurt?

By Samuel Gill

As the Baddiel, Skinner and Lightning Seeds song goes, Three Lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming, thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming and those words from a song which is used time and time again for major tournaments always still echo clear inside the minds of England fans.

Never wanting to give up with the potential of the end goal in sight of some success and some reward and once again on Saturday (3JUL), the nation will be locked in to battle once more whether at a pub or at home with a sense of unity there after a torrid 16 months due to Coronavirus.

But as the old cliché goes, is it coming home, or will it be another year of hurt for England as they bow out in the Quarterfinals to Ukraine.

The Three Lions travel to Rome to attempt to qualify for their first Euros semi-final for 25 years when they face Ukraine in their first away game in the competition and it is very much likely that instead of the wall of sound at Wembley in recent times, hardly any fans will be allowed in from England due to Coronavirus restrictions.

But will that play into the hands of Southgate’s men, or will it be the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak?

Or will history even come back to bite them whether in this round or the next with the last semi-final being the infamous Euro 96.

Ukraine poses more of a threat than is thought by many England fans with Andriy Shevchenko anchoring a side coming from the likes of Andriy Yarmolenko, Roman Yaremchuk up front as well as all over the pitch including Dynamo Kyiv’s Oleksandr Karavayev and in the back three, Mykola Matviyenko.

All have either been linked or in Yarmolenko’s case already play in the Premier League showing the calibre of the side and with their home fans inside the Stadia Olympico instead of England’s, it could prove a tougher night than Germany.

As well as the bounce back factor being a question with the analogy of teams getting a big win and not being able to follow it up and losing to an inferior team being in play.

The upward trajectory England are on is undeniable, but can they translate that into victory, for some though it is just all about what it has done for the country in a time where hope is hard to come by with Coronavirus restrictions stretching until the latest into Summer.

For Tom Dews, who watched the previous game at Soar Point in Leicester and will be tuning in tonight in Brighton among the millions to watch the next chapter against Ukraine, it was more than just the football, it was a return to normality.

“Watching the Euro’s and England back in the pub again has brought back a sense of normality into my life. As well as if I am honest, it has done real wonders for my mental health,” he said.

But while he like many are hopeful, there will always be the pessimism. “Though we all know what England are like, so I’m being very tentative with my hopefulness this year.”

Finlay Smith similarly has travelled home from Nottingham to watch the game back home and he does not share the pessimistic outlook of sorts that comes with England reaching the latter stages.

“I see England going in against Ukraine, not conceding and playing a defensively sound game with a couple of England goals to secure the semi-final. I can’t see a world in which England can beat the Germans in an ACTUAL football match and then go onto lose to Ukraine. Call it blind optimism but the only time I see us leaving that competition is when Harry Kane lifts that trophy following a dominant performance in the final,” he said.

But he does share the views in terms of what it has done to the country and lifted their spirits when Covid restrictions are still in place.

“The way that the team has progressed through the tournament so far is such a lift to a country that has been experiencing the hardships that Covid has brought about for such an extensive period of time now. The time in which the tournament has fallen was a stroke of luck as it tied in with the lifting of restrictions. Its the perfect time of year, nice hot and sunny with pubs being open too just tops it off. Allowing us to socialise once again after so long of zoom quizzes and clapping on doorsteps, void of any real social interaction.”

Alex Owusu will be watching the game tonight in Norwich and spoke about his thoughts on tonight’s game believing that Ukraine will be easy for England to get past despite the likes of Yarmolenko and Yaremchuk being in the team.

“Next stage is the semi’s, I’m optimistic. I am confident now we’ve knocked out the big boys. Germany got through the groups so it is just Ukraine which I think we can get past,” he said.

“They will pose no threat at all. I don’t think they are anywhere as good as the players that we’ve got no.”

As can be stated, the optimism is all there ahead of tonight in a game which has seemingly brought not only the effects of sport returning but the real buzz of life without restrictions looming large which could await at the end of the tournament.

LIKELY XI – Pickford, Shaw, Maguire, Stones, Walker, Rice, Mount, Henderson, Sterling, Sancho, Kane

KO – 8pm

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