By SHAUN CUSTIS
Wayne Rooney may have been a little rusty but he nodded England top of Group D with probably the easiest goal of his career.
And the bonus of Rooney’s 48th-minute winner is that England have avoided world and European champions Spain in the quarter-finals.
Facing Mario Balotelli’s Italy in Kiev on Sunday will not be easy but dodging the Spanish is always the preferable option.
Rooney, playing his first game of Euro 2012 following a two-match ban, pounced at the far post after skipper Steven Gerrard’s low cross slid under keeper Andriy Pyatov’s hand.
It was the third assist from man-of-the-match Gerrard in the competition and another immense performance from the Liverpool midfield star.
The goal was also a huge relief for Rooney because it made up for a shocking first-half miss when he headed wide from just six yards.
England were helped on their way by the failure to award Ukraine a leveller on 62 minutes following a Marko Devic shot which spun up off the diving Joe Hart.
The ball looped towards goal and, while John Terry made an acrobatic clearance, replays showed the ball was OVER the line.
There were three officials watching it, the linesman, the official by the goal and ref Viktor Kassai but none of them spotted it.
What is the point of that bloke behind the goal-line? He was only five yards away and still he did not notice the ball was in.
Video technology cannot come soon enough.
At least it was some justice for England having had that Frank Lampard effort wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup against Germany.
Not surprisingly the hosts, cheered on by a vociferous crowd in the pulsating atmosphere of the Donbass Arena were mightily aggrieved.
They squandered a fair few chances too and, were it not for a magnificent performance by the English defence, it could have been a different story.
Hart, Glen Johnson, Terry, Joleon Lescott and Ashley Cole were outstanding in the face of the onslaught.
Cole was setting a record for an England player by making his 21st appearance in tournament football, breaking the mark set by Peter Shilton and David Beckham.
He remains as good as he was in 2001 when he made his debut and almost capped his performance with a first goal for his country only for Pyatov to push his late drive round the post.
England always knew they would make the last eight as long as they did not lose.
The omens were good because Ukraine had never earned a victory in the city of Donetsk — at either their old or new ground — in six games.
And the big blow for them was that national hero Andriy Shevchenko, who scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Sweden, was not fit to start because of a knee injury.
Yet the hosts gave England a torrid time in the first half and Roy Hodgson’s men were fortunate to get to the break on level terms having not managed a single shot on target.
Danny Welbeck, preferred to Andy Carroll, was not gelling with club-mate Rooney and Ukraine had their tails up.
Denis Garmash smashed a 25-yard shot just over, then Terry did well to whip the ball off the dangerous Andriy Yarmolenko’s toes in the box.
Scott Parker got in an important block on a goalbound strike by Devic, while Yevhen Konoplyanka also had a go and this time Terry got his chest in the way.
Ukraine were enjoying way too much of the game for Hodgson’s liking and it needed Gerrard to try and get his foot on the ball and bring some order to proceedings.
But then Ashley Young lost out tamely in a challenge and Oleg Gusev was close with a left-footer which had Hart leaping anxiously to his left as it just cleared the bar.
Gerrard, however, can always turn a game with one of his dead-ball specials and, from a free-kick on the right, his delivery was just out of reach of the diving Rooney.
Rooney was kicking himself a few minutes later. Terry launched a glorious ball out to Young and the cross was begging for the United striker to finish it off.
Rooney had peeled away but jumped too early and nodded badly wide.
At that moment, Pele, he was not.
Yarmolenko was a real handful and one mesmerising dribble left Parker scrambling around on all fours and it took Lescott to boot it out for a corner.
A pep-talk from Hodgson must have done the trick because within three minutes of the restart, England were in front.
Gerrard got a bit of luck as his low whipped cross squirted under Pyatov’s hand. But, as it did so, you know who, Rooney, was waiting to finish it off at the far post from about two inches.
Ukraine should have equalised but Artem Milevskiy headed over from close range, then they were denied by the officials’ failure to award Devic’s ‘goal’.
Cole could have got his first England goal on his 97th cap to properly wrap things up but Pyatov saved.
“We’re not going home,” sang England’s jubilant fans.
No, they are not. Instead, it is off to Kiev and, the way it is going who would bet against England winning there too.