The return of Wayne Rooney had dominated news bulletins before Roy Hodgson's side took to the field in Donetsk, but the hype was to prove well-founded, with the striker silencing his doubters with the only goal of the game to book England's place in the quarter-finals of and set up a clash with Italy in Kiev on Sunday night.
Hodgson has had plenty of big calls to make during his brief tenure as England boss, but his decision to select Rooney for the third, and ultimately decisive group stage encounter, would not have required too much thought.
Despite the Manchester United star missing the first two Group D encounters through suspension, there was never any doubt that he would start last night, with Hodgson left with a difficult choice over who to sacrifice to make way for his returning talisman.
It was Andy Carroll who would pay the price, with the Liverpool man forced to take a seat on the bench alongside his manager as Rooney lined up alongside his Old Trafford team-mate Danny Welbeck.
His impact was, at first, muted, but he was not the only man in white who struggled to assert himself as Hodgson's men found themselves on the back foot in the early exchanges.
The worry would have been significant for the former West Brom boss, with his side second best for much of the first half against a Ukraine line-up that appeared quicker in mind and body and hungrier for the points required to book a last-eight berth.
Rooney may have been subdued, but he was still central to England's minimal attacking intentions and, after 27 minutes, found himself on the end of the best chance of the opening period.
It was a move that was deserving of a goal as John Terry pinged a diagonal pass to Steven Gerrard on the left flank, with the Liverpool star finding Rooney unmarked at the back post. His effort was poor, however, as the ball skimmed off his head and wide of Andriy Pyatov's left-hand post from just six yards.
As Hodgson's troops trudged from the field at the break, the concern would have been palpable, yet the Three Lions soon roared into life, with Rooney emerging as the timely hero.
The goal that gave England a crucial 47th-minute lead was made in Liverpool, with Gerrard again the provider as he whipped in a low cross from the right flank that deceived the Ukraine defence and flummoxed Pyatov. This time, Rooney made no mistake with his head, nodding home at the back post from just yards out to put England in the driving seat.
Just minutes later, the 26-year-old could have doubled his tally, latching on to Gerrard's cross as England broke and advancing on goal, but Andriy Yarmolenko recovered well to thwart the danger and keep Oleg Blokhin's side in the match.
The opening weeks of Hodgson's reign have not been short of controversy away from the field of play, yet an on-field drama almost stole the show, with the thorny issue of goal-line technology once again likely to come to the fore in the days to come.
Replay's showed that Marko Devic's effort, which hit Joe Hart and spun towards goal, crossed the line before Terry was able to hook clear.
It is an incident that could have seen a storm brew quickly yet doubts over the validity of England's triumph can be muted due to the fact that Artem Milevsky was offside in the build-up to the goalmouth drama.
It was a slice of good fortune that England will rightly be grateful for, yet they will know improvements must be forthcoming if they are to prolong their stay in Poland and Ukraine beyond this weekend.
Sweden's surprise 2-0 win against France ensured it will be Italy, and not reigning World and European champions Spain, that Hodgson's side will do battle with.
That news will be greeted with glee south of the border, yet the Italians have already shown their quality this summer and will present the sternest test yet of Hodgson's England.
Against all the odds, the 64-year-old has guided his country into the knockout stages, eclip-sing the ambitions many fans would have held before the tournament began. However, going one step further will prove to be his biggest challenge yet.