Ukraine 0 England 0: Three talking points as Hodgson’s men draw
Ukraine 0 England 0: Three talking points as the Three Lions secure a battling point in Kiev on Tuesday night
Ukraine’s wingers should inspire their English counterparts
In a predictably drab meeting between two of Group H’s top-three teams, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko were the stars of the show. The Ukraine pair ran at the England full-backs, cutting inside, firing in crosses, and even pulling off some audacious skills and flamboyant touches. Both aged 23, the wingers injected some much-needed life into a particularly flat qualifier. Compared to their English counterparts, Theo Walcott and James Milner, the two Ukrainians flourished in front of the Kiev crowd. Milner, who England boss Roy Hodgson earlier this week claimed “doesn’t pretend to be as exciting as some of the other wingers”, had a subdued night. The Manchester City man supported Ashley Cole well but provided very little in attack. Walcott was also kept under wraps, save for the opening 20 minutes when he saw an early effort saved. While the roles of Walcott and Milner are undoubtedly unlike those of Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko, England fans will have been willing them to take on their markers. Walcott’s preference to play a pass inside rather than using his blistering pace to test 34-year-old Vyacheslav Shevchuk set the tone for the rest of the match.
Should we expect a draw in England’s final two matches?
Another tepid performance and another draw means that England still haven’t beaten anyone in Group H other than Moldova and San Marino. Hardly the kind of statistic expected of the nation who created the beautiful game. Hodgson will no doubt spin the draw into a well-deserved point, but really, should the Three Lions be settling for this kind of result? England are happy to avoid defeats on the road in a bid to secure qualification to major tournaments, but it hardly instils a winning mentality going into European championships or World Cup. There won’t be any home games in Brazil to fall back on. The England staff need to shed the ridiculous conservative nature of looking for a safe result, and instead, throw caution to the wind and attack with intent. By being afraid to surrender top spot in Group H, Hodgson has put more pressure on his side with two qualifiers remaining. A victory would have eased the pressure ahead of the October fixtures, but instead, the England boss left Jermain Defoe on the bench, swapping Walcott for Tom Cleverley to end the match with three central midfielders and one striker. The Three Lions’ previous four matches against Poland, Ukraine and Montenegro have ended in draws, so perhaps we should expect the final two to go the same way.
Cahill making the position his own
In amongst the mediocrity, the Three Lions do have one thing to be thankful for. With every match, Gary Cahill looks to have further stepped up to fill the void left in defence by the retirements of previous incumbents John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. For the first qualifying campaign in nearly 15 years, neither Terry nor Ferdinand has been a part of the England squad. In their absence, boss Hodgson has called upon various combinations consisting of Steven Caulker, Phil Jagielka, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Joleon Lescott, and Cahill. Hodgson appears to have finally settled on the latter with Everton’s Jagielka. Cahill’s international form has been transferred from his domestic club form at Chelsea, where his 45 appearances in all competitions last season helped the Blues to a Champions League finish and Europa League victory. He’s amassed 18 caps for his country and experienced defeat only twice. He was unfortunate to miss Euro 2012 with injury, but since returning to the fold, has looked as comfortable in possession as he is without it. He made numerous interceptions and clearances during Ukraine’s pressured spells, and had a header cleared off the line in the early stages of the match. With Cahill defending stoutly, England can be sure they’re building from a steady base.