For the last time in the group stage...
It would have taken an extraordinary set of circumstances for France to go out of the competition at this stage, but they did their bit to make it happen. Though they had 58% of the ball and carved out plenty of opportunities, they simply didn't work Andreas Isaksson enough. That was down to two things - France's wayward shooting and Olof Mellberg, one of the stand-out players of the tournament so far and unlucky to be going home at this stage. Time and again he got in a block or a crucial tackle in and when he didn't, France failed to hit the target. Hatem Ben Arfa got a start and had three efforts in the first half, and they gradually got closer to the crossbar. He was taken off after an hour, but if he'd been left to the end, he might have found the target. Sweden, already eliminated and with coach Erik Hamren resplendent in a waistcoat reminiscent of Terry Griffiths' world snooker championship season of 1979, could have been forgiven for not really giving a damn, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic, inevitably, came up with the goal of the tournament so far ten minutes into the second half. Watch it. It's quite fabulous. Hugo Lloris kept France in it with a couple of what for him are routine saves, but for anyone else would be ones for the scrapbook, but he was helpless when a late Swedish break lead to Samuel Holman crashing a shot off the bar which Sebastien Larsson smashed into the net. If only Sweden had found this form earlier.
Ukraine edged the other game on points, but one defensive mix-up allowed Wayne Rooney to head England into a lead early in the second half. Andriy Pyatov had Steven Gerrard's cross covered, but a slight nick off Yevgeny Khacheridi diverted it past him and into Rooney's path. Back came Ukraine and they caught England out on the break and Marko Devic's looping shot was cleared from out of the back of the net by John Terry. It looked over the line and one replay was all it took to confirm that. "Great defending by John Terry" boomed Andy Townsend on the ITV commentary in the UK. Yes, but only if you discount that he was caught out by a high ball, completely done for pace and the ball crossed the line. Stand by for the same tired arguments about how to resolve these once-every-two-year issues and intransigence on both sides. The role and positioning of the extra official might be more pertinent, but basically, one bloke fucked up. Other than that, it really was rather dull, as we've become used to with this iteration of the England national team which makes Gerrard's claim of "nobody will fancy playing us" seem spurious at best. The Italians are hardly likely to be fretting as they breakfast on their delicious pastries and tiny cups of coffee this morning. Oleg Blokhin, meanwhile, suggested a journalist who asked a tricky question join him outside for a "man conversation". Lovely turn of phrase, these Ukrainians.
So England, unbelievably, top the group and play Italy in the quarter-finals. France come second and play Spain.
Today, nothing! A day off before the quarter-finals. Tomorrow, you are saved another missive.