England and France took the last places in a heavyweight final eight at Uefa Euro 2012™ on Tuesday, with Ukraine joining co-hosts Poland on the sidelines after a 1-0 loss to the English marred by a controversial disallowed goal.
In a tournament heavy on goals and drama but relatively free of debatable refereeing decisions, the row over Marco Devic’s disallowed effort after an hour, which television replays suggested may have crossed the line, left a bitter taste.
But it would not have made any difference to Ukraine who needed to win to advance and struggled to breach a resolute English defence in Donetsk.
“To be successful in these tournaments, with the quality of teams you have, you need a bit of luck along the way,” England captain Steven Gerrard said. “If you keep fighting and stick at it you earn that bit of luck.”
Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin was unhappy with the decision.
“What should I say? There were five referees on the pitch and the ball was 75 centimetres behind the goalline,” he said.
“I do not want to talk about referees. But I would not like to put everything on referees. You have seen it, so you may write all you want.”
England’s win, courtesy of a second-half Wayne Rooney header, meant a below-par France also qualified as Group D runners-up despite losing 2-0 to Sweden who had already been eliminated, in Kiev.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the opening goal for the Swedes with a spectacular scissor-kick volley after 54 minutes and Sebastian Larsson added the second shortly before the final whistle.
France will play world champions Spain on Saturday and England take on Italy on Sunday. The Czech Republic and Portugal meet in the first quarterfinal on Thursday and Germany face Greece on Friday.
The tournament, being hosted by Poland and Ukraine in eastern Europe for the first time, has yet to feature a goalless draw and all four groups went down to the wire with four teams who won their first games going out, a championship record.
But the finals have also been marked from the start by debates over racism, bigotry and a diplomatic boycott of Ukraine over the jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko that caused British leaders to stay away from Tuesday’s game.
Players and coaches also sought to play down the political meaning of the Greece v Germany quarterfinal which has turned minds at the tournament to Europe’s deepening economic crisis.
“It’s a bad thing for you to start to make stories and compare football and sports with politics,” Greek striker Giorgos Samaras told a news conference, laying into international media for spinning the game as a clash between the euro zone’s problem child and its rich northern paymaster.
“It’s just a game. We’re going to play and enjoy it because we love it, nothing else.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a deeply unpopular figure in Greece for the tough austerity principles she has imposed in return for a €130 billion ($164.79 billion) bailout deal that a new government is expected to seek to renegotiate.
Germany for its part says extra taxation and a far smaller public sector is vital if Greece is to learn to live within its means and not require more international handouts in future.
“Angela Merkel and us, we have a good relationship and an agreement that she does not advise me on the lineups and I do not advise her on political statements,” Germany coach Joachim Loew told reporters.
“It is just a normal quarterfinal game against Greece and nothing else.”
Croatia became the latest country to be fined by European soccer’s governing body Uefa for its fans racist taunting of Italy striker Mario Balotelli in last week’s 1-1 draw.
The Croats, whose fans have also been involved in violence outside stadiums at the tournament, were fined €80 000 ($101 400) the day after being dumped out of the tournament by Spain following a 1-0 defeat in Gdansk.
“It is certainly a drastic fine for us. Unfortunately, the behaviour of a tiny group of people immensely tarnishes our reputation and inflicts a huge financial damage,” Zorislav Srebric, secretary-general of the Croatian Soccer Federation (HNS), told Reuters.