Wayne Rooney headed England to victory over Ukraine and through to a Euro 2012 quarter-final meeting with Italy on Sunday.
Back in the side after serving his two-game suspension, the Manchester United striker looked rusty at times but provided the crucial moment in the match, with England topping Group D after France suffered a shock 2-0 defeat against eliminated Sweden.
Steven Gerrard whipped over a teasing cross from the right which Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov made a complete hash of and allowed Rooney to nod home from practically on the line at the far post.
Having squandered a glorious opportunity from six yards out in the first half, Rooney simply could not miss in the 48th minute as he claimed his first goal at a major international tournament since 21st June, 2004.
Hodgson’s side rode their luck to a huge extent just after the hour mark when John Terry cleared from under his own bar after Joe Hart could only partially block Marko Devic’s shot, with replays showing the ball had crossed the line.
The co-hosts follow Poland in exiting the tournament before the knockout phase, while France now have a quarter-final clash with Spain to prepare for after losing their grip on the top of the standings.
Instead of starting on the front foot, as Hodgson suggested, England found themselves penned back by a relentless tide of Ukraine attacks.
The general relief that greeted Andriy Shevchenko’s absence might not have been so obvious if the talents of Serbian-born Devic were better known.
Devic was at the centre of most Ukraine attacks, had a goalbound shot blocked by Scott Parker and triggering the move that ended with Andriy Yarmolenko stepping inside the box and forcing a low save out of Hart.
Oleg Gusev shot over after being gifted possession by Ashley Young and in the final minutes of the opening period Yarmolenko slalomed his way towards the England goal, only for Joleon Lescott to make a very late intervention.
Throughout this, England had been urged to get themselves higher up the pitch by Roy Hodgson’s coaching staff, Gary Neville particularly agitated by the failing. Yet all the angst would have been removed had Rooney taken his golden opportunity.
For all Hodgson’s assurances to the contrary in recent days, it was evident that after just 37 minutes’ action in 44 days Rooney was lacking sharpness.
The hoped for combination with Manchester United team-mate Danny Welbeck never materialised and his passing went astray too often. This would have been forgiven if Rooney had turned Young’s deep cross into the net.
It had been a brilliant move until final execution, started by John Terry’s superb cross-field pass to the left touchline.
Young delivered the ball exactly where Rooney would have asked given he had intelligently peeled away from his marker. Level with the far post, the striker tried to glance it home and sent it bouncing wide.
In order to make the contribution Hodgson hoped for, it was evident Rooney required a bit of assistance.
Three minutes after the restart Pyatov failed to clear one of those teasing Gerrard crosses that have been a hallmark of his time in Ukraine. From roughly a yard, Rooney nodded in.
The band that had been banned on their last visit to Donetsk filled the noise vacuum created by the silencing of their hosts and when the big screens at either end of the stadium flashed up news of Sweden’s goal in Kiev a few minutes later, English cheers went up once more.
But, just as Fabio Capello cursed Frank Lampard’s goal not being awarded in Bloemfontein two years ago, so Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin now has reason to lament.
To the naked eye, in real time, sympathy has to be afforded to the officials as John Terry hacked Devic’s half-blocked shot away.
To them it can’t have looked over the line. Within 60 seconds, all those millions watching around the world on TV knew it was, the fans in the stadium only left in the dark because the wise decision was taken not to show it to them again.
Shevchenko was introduced for one last hurrah but it was Yevhen Konoplyanka who brought an excellent save out of Hart with a dipping long-range effort.
Welbeck and Rooney were replaced as the clock ran down, whilst Gerrard and Ashley Cole also picked up bookings which may yet come back and haunt them. Not that such matters should bother them too much tonight.