Needing a win to go through, Ukraine appeared to have equalised just past the hour mark when Marco Devic’s shot was half saved by England keeper Joe Hart and as the ball looped goalwards it was hacked clear by John Terry.
Despite the extra official being just a few metres away the ball was deemed not to have crossed the line despite television replays suggesting otherwise.
With England jittery all night a goal then would have whipped the home fans in Donetsk into a frenzy and they would have had a chance of going on to win the game and finishing top of Group D.
As it was, Ukraine’s challenge faded and England finished the night as group winners to book a last-eight clash with Italy.
“What can I say? There are five referees on the pitch and the ball was half a metre over the line,” Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin, who remonstrated angrily with the fourth official at the time, told reporters.
Ironically, it is the English FA which has been one of the strongest supporters of the introduction of goalline technology which is expected to be formally introduced by the International Football Association Board on July 5.
Two years ago in South Africa England were denied a far clearer equalising goal against Germany when Frank Lampard’s shot crashed off the underside of the crossbar and bounced well over the line before being clawed out by Manuel Neuer.
England, trailing 2-1 at the time, went on to lose the game 4-1 and were knocked out of the tournament.
World governing body FIFA has been trialling two different systems to help officials know whether a ball has crossed the line. England’s friendly against Belgium last month was one of the test matches for HawkEye, the system used in tennis, although it was not at the disposal of match officials.
A similar system called GoalRef has also been trialled in two Danish league matches.
While the days of so-called “ghost goals” may be numbered, Ukraine’s bad luck will join a long list of high-profile incidents another of which, the most famous, also involved England in the 1966 World Cup final against West Germany.
On that occasion striker Geoff Hurst’s shot off the underside of the bar with the score at 2-2 in extra time was judged to have bounced beyond the line by Azerbaijan linesman Tofik Bakhramov despite replays suggesting it had not gone over.
It became one of the most talked-about football incidents of all time and Bakhramov became something of a folk hero back home and even had a statue modelled in his honour.
Hungarian Viktor Kassai, the referee on Tuesday as Ukraine’s hopes ebbed away, will not be quite as popular on the streets of Kiev, Lviv and Donetsk, although by the time the World Cup kicks off in Brazil, he may have cameras to help him and his four assistants.