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After having played all of their matches in the competition in London, the English side travel to Rome, Italy, to take on Ukraine on Saturday in the quarter-finals. Although far from their cocoon, the Three Lions come forward in confidence. But beware of the Ukrainians led by their coach Andrei Shevchenko, on familiar ground in the Italian capital.
It has been a tradition for 25 years, every time the England team seem in a position to go for a major title. The hit “Three Lions” and its chorus “It’s coming home” are back in fashion on the other side of the Channel. Even more after the English victory against Germany in the round of 16 of Euro-2021 (2-0).
Change of scenery for the quarter-final against Ukraine, Saturday July 3. Exit the Wembley stadium in London, the scene of the first round and the shock won against the Nationalmannschaft. To hope to play the semi-final and the final in the English capital, you have to win this quarter at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Italy. Suddenly, the British press innovates: “It’s coming Rome”, she proclaims.
A unique chance for the English
While 40,000 spectators lined the stands at Wembley against Germany, they will be far fewer for the match against the Ukrainians. The Roman stadium is limited to a maximum of 16,000 spectators, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And the health context pushed the English Football Federation to give up the 2,500 places allocated to it. Separately, Italy canceled tickets recently sold to UK residents to avoid an influx of supporters. The Delta variant, which represents 95% of contamination cases in Great Britain, worries the Italian authorities.
Far from home, deprived of support and decked out with the label of favorite, will England be as successful? For Roy Keane, the Three Lions owe it to themselves to succeed in this away game. The ex-midfielder of Nottingham Forrest and Manchester United, reconverted consultant for the BBC, believes that “England will never, never, never have a better opportunity to win the Euro”. “If they have the chance to go to the final, they will have played six of their seven meetings at Wembley. You can’t hope for much better,” insisted the Irishman.
In addition to his forwards Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, author of the four English goals in the competition, coach Gareth Southgate can count on a solid defense. Defensive trio Kyle Walker-Harry Maguire-John Stones shone in the previous round. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has still not conceded a goal since the start of the Euro. His prowess disgusted the German attackers. Distrust all the same, because the Ukrainians are ruled by an ancient terror of the surfaces.
Shevchenko at home in Italy
“Zbirna” coach for five years, Andrei Shevchenko knows the Olympic stadium well. Not as much as San Siro, certainly, but in eight years in Italy, the former striker has often played and scored in Rome. Author of 175 goals in 324 matches for AC Milan (1999-2006 and 2008-2009), 2003 Champions League winner, 2004 Italian champion, Serie A top scorer twice (2000 and 2004), Ballon d’Or 2004 … “Cheva” built its legend in Italy.
His career as a player crumbled from 2006, when he left Milan for … England and the Chelsea club. In the Blues (2006-2008), the hunter did not find his place and never displayed the qualities that had made him one of the best footballers in the world. If his love rating in Italy has remained good, in England, his passage has remained like an expensive fiasco, the result of a personal wish of the Russian owner Roman Abramovich. The latter absolutely wanted to afford Andreï Chevchenko, despite an already established offensive line (Didier Drogba, Arjen Robben, Hernan Crespo, Eidur Gudjohnsen …). Evil took him.
Enough to leave the 44-year-old coach a certain bitterness towards England? Not really. Andrei Shevchenko still lives in London, despite his past setbacks at Chelsea. And today, he thinks above all of sending his selection to the semi-finals. This would be historic, Ukraine having never reached this level in international competition (quarter-finalist of the World-2006 and therefore of the Euro-2021). The fatigue due to overtime against Sweden in the round of 16 (2-1) and the confidence of the English do not shake the convictions of Shevchenko. “The forces of England should not scare us. (…) Everything is possible in football,” he insists.
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