Honest England move into bonus territory
Euro 2012: Donetsk
When Wayne Rooney next uses the visualisation techniques that have become an integral part of his pre-match routine, he may allow himself to imagine something nobody saw coming.
England striker Rooney admits he lies awake the night before big games training his mind's eye on the decisive moments that might win a match, even armed with information about the strip the opposition will wear.
And events inside the vast, thunderous Donbass Arena in Donetsk would have fulfilled his dreams perfectly as a simple nod of his head inches away from an open goal after 48 minutes gave England the 1-0 win that put them into Euro 2012's quarter-final.
England manager Roy Hodgson set the stage for Rooney's return from a two-match suspension by invoking the name of the great Brazilian Pele as an example of how special talents can define tournaments.
After missing a first-half header that would have been filed away in the nightmare section of his motivational build-up, Rooney got the goal that means England and Hodgson have reached what most agreed would be a par performance for a manager who only took the job early last month.
Wayne Rooney's goal came after a period of intense Ukraine pressure. Photo: AFP
The added bonus was that Sweden's victory against France allows England to navigate their way around world and European champions Spain and will instead meet Italy in Kiev on Sunday.
So when Rooney turns out the lights and fixes his thoughts on the famous Italian Azzurri, could he seriously allow his mind to wander to see England driving further into Euro 2012 and towards a potential semi-final meeting with Germany - or even the final?
Suddenly England have possibilities, not on the back of sparkling displays but because of a group of honest players proving they want to play for their new manager and getting the results to back it up.
It would be delusion on the grandest scale to suggest England illuminated the Donbass Arena, daubed in the yellow and blue of the expectant co-host nation. Indeed, for most parts this was a poor performance where they came in second behind a Ukraine side fuelled by the hopes of a nation but unable to turn territorial domination into tangible reward.
And yet England found a way to win through the turmoil of a torrid first half as Rooney applied his lavish new thatch to Steven Gerrard's cross after two deflections and some trademark mishandling from Ukraine keeper Andriy Pyatov.
Finding that way to win is a crucial element of tournament football, as is good fortune. England enjoyed it here when John Terry's athletic scrambled clearance appeared to blind the Hungarian officials to the truth that Marko Devic's shot was clearly over the line.
Had it been given, England would have faced a highly uncomfortable 28 minutes to survive what would have been a siege. Instead, not even the introduction of injured national icon Andriy Shevchenko could spare Ukraine their fate.
Yes, England were lucky, but they were unlucky when Frank Lampard 'scored' against Germany in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, so they will take the payback.
So it was England's players being greeted warmly by manager Hodgson at the final whistle while frustrated Ukraine counterpart Oleg Blokhin - only ever a second away from an explosion - was reduced to offering a local journalist outside after taking exception to his line of questioning.
It still takes a stretch to see England as Euro 2012 winners but safe passage from the group stage means Hodgson can consider his personal campaign a success and will return home with his credentials solidified irrespective of the result against Italy.
England and Hodgson will not want to stop here, though. The difference in spirit from the miseries of South Africa is remarkable and this was what saw them through a display which was, for long periods, unconvincing.
Hodgson has got some big calls right in his short tenure and one of those has been the appointment of Liverpool's Gerrard as captain. Fabio Capello regarded Gerrard as too timid for the role, a situation not helped when the armband was removed despite outstanding contributions in qualifying wins against Bulgaria and Switzerland.
Gerrard knows the current manager, unlike Capello, has confidence in him as captain. He is not holding on to it for someone else or seeing colleagues such as Scott Parker, admirable character though he is, mystifyingly being preferred - as he was by caretaker manager Stuart Pearce.
And he has responded to Hodgson's faith magnificently here. He was the creator for the third time in Euro 2012 but was so much more than that. Gerrard helped stop England's ship from listing as Ukraine dominated, once again answering questions about supposed tactical indiscipline with a measured performance that set the perfect example.
Capello's doubts about Gerrard's character and suitability for captaincy are being shredded game by game in Poland and Ukraine as he does his manager's bidding on the field and while forming an obviously close and inclusive relationship with him off it.
Hodgson will also have been delighted by the work of central defenders John Terry and Joleon Lescott in a position that was a bone of contention when Rio Ferdinand was not included in the squad.
Terry's head and body were on the end of most things when an embattled England needed them, while Lescott is now showing for England the form he has displayed for Everton and Manchester City over many years.
The selection of Chelsea captain Terry threatened to overshadow the early stages of England's Euro 2012 campaign but his performance amid the hostility of the Donbass brooked no argument. Devic's shot may have crossed the line yet it was Terry's determination, laced with desperation, to clear the ball with great athleticism that planted the seed of doubt in the minds of the officials. He could have given it up but that is not his style.
So England move on to Kiev on Sunday with Spain nicely dodged and Italy awaiting. Of course Hodgson will want the ultimate prize but he is moving into bonus territory now and Euro 2012 - and four wins out of five since he took charge - will be regarded as highly satisfactory by the four-man Football Association group that appointed him.