A nation dreams as England blitz Ukraine to roar into semi-finals 10 months ago

A nation dreams as England blitz Ukraine to roar into semi-finals

England booked their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 with a 4-0 win over Ukraine

It's become something of a running joke, over the years.

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Time and time again, England have turned up at major tournaments; time and time again, expectations have been built unjustifiably high. Inevitably, it ends only in disappointment.

This, though, feels different. For once, as Gareth Southgate's side emphatically booked their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 with a 4-0 hammering of Ukraine, England's supporters can be forgiven for getting a little giddy, for daring to dream.

Buoyed by the win over Germany, it was always likely that England would advance past Ukraine, but the manner of this win - the ruthlessness of that frantic opening few minutes in the second half - felt like a statement.

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Southgate's side had been given the perfect start. With Andriy Shevchenko deploying a back five to sit tight and frustrate England, Raheem Sterling quickly picked the lock to slide a pass into the path of Harry Kane. England's captain, energised by his goal against Germany, prodded it home with little over four minutes played.

The early goal prompted a response from Ukraine, who immediately adjusted to a 4-3-3. Save for a couple of half chances - owed more to the occasional lapse in concentration from England's players - they carried little in the way of genuine threat after the change.

England remained largely in control, and might have gone in at half-time with a two-goal lead had Declan Rice's fiercely struck shot been a yard either side of Heorhiy Bushchan.

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After the interval, England didn't have to wait long to kill the game. A cheaply given away free-kick on the England left allowed Luke Shaw - magnificent again - to deliver the kind of set piece delivery that would've left Jose Mourinho shaking with rage, his blood pressure dangerously high. Harry Maguire couldn't miss. 2-0.

Four minutes later, another. Kane - unrecognisable from those lethargic performances earlier in the tournament - was picked out by another Shaw cross and nodded through Bushchan's legs. He might have had a hat-trick had the goalkeeper not turned his explosive volley behind soon after.

The result assured, Southgate could afford to shuffle his pack. On came Jordan Henderson, who marked his appearance with his first England goal. 4-0, half an hour still to play. Dreamland.

More substitutions followed. A combination of that, the Rome heat and the contest being well and truly settled saw the closing minutes of the game fizzle out without major incident.

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And so, back to Wembley, where a sterner challenge will no doubt lie in wait in the shape of an impressive Denmark side. But after this, after the way in which England's performances have steadily improved over the course of this tournament, there is little for Southgate's men to fear. They are a game away from a first major final since 1966, on home soil, with a squad brimming with talent (Phil Foden and Jack Grealish didn't even see any action).

This, make no mistake about it, is a time for English football fans to dream.