England fans can relax again for another month at least. Their fate and fortunes to qualify for the 2014 world cup in Brazil remain in their own hands and we can almost let out a sigh of relief for another year.
To those who watched last night’s goalless and at times fragmented draw in Ukraine the result and performance may perhaps seem a little disappointing, especially for one of the biggest football nations of the planet.
Nevertheless in a game which could have easily flipped the group out of England’s control, Roy Hodgson and his team left the Ukraine with a valuable point without hindering their chances of a trip to Rio de Janeiro a year from now.
Against their biggest rivals in group H England’s priority was merely to avoid defeat and hold their position as group leaders, in that respect last night’s performance was a job well done even without the likes of Wayne Rooney or the in-form Daniel Sturridge.
It wasn’t the prettiest or most exciting game of football ever recorded but it’s a result that doesn’t leave England’s destiny to chance, with their two final games both at home to Montenegro and Poland. Win them both and England can plan for Brazil.
“On reflection I thought it was a fair result," said Hodgson after the game. "Playing in front of 70,000 people was a different test to Moldova, defensively we were very good we weren’t that adventurous but it was their job to be adventurous”
Captain Steven Gerrard admitted “It wasn’t a top class performance, but we have come and done the job and the group’s still in our hands”
In many ways the pressure was on Ukraine they were the home side, they trailed England in the group and as Hodgson said “it was their job to be adventurous.”
England made only one change from the side which netted four goals against Moldova on Friday night as James Milner replaced the suspended Danny Welbeck, while Frank Lampard earned his 100th cap for his country.
In a game with few opportunities in front of goal the opening minutes provided a cluster of chances. With just over 40 seconds on the clock the hosts launched an early attack down the left.
Yevhan Konoplyanka, who was Ukraine’s biggest threat all night, curled a low cross into the heart of the England penalty area towards teammate Roman Zozulya. While lunging for the ball the Ukrainian forward collided with the England keeper Joe Hart, sparking a roar of penalty appeals from the 70,000 Ukraine fans only for the referee to award a corner instead.
Minutes later England had a chance of their own when Theo Walcott scampered away from the opposition defence before his darting run into the Ukraine box, which was halted by the bravery of keeper Andriy Pyatov and his backtracking defenders.
England began to increase the pressure through a number of corners but Hodgson’s side were nearly undone by a drifting pass towards goal, which was hooked into the penalty area by Artem Fedetskiy forcing Gary Cahill to intervene.
Chances became a rarity as the half went on, with England happy to concede possession while carrying a threat on the counter as Ukraine struggled to break them down.
It took until ten minutes after half time for Ukraine to stamp some authority on the game. Konoplyanka was again the thorn in England’s side as another menacing cross caused chaos in the visitor’s box before Gerrard eventually cleared the danger.
The final half an hour turned into a game of poker with neither side prepared to chance their hand. England seemed the happier with a point but were made to sweat when Kyle Walker stumbled into the back of Zozulya on the edge of England’s penalty area giving Konoplyanka a shooting opportunity from 20 yards, however his free kick deflected wide off Phil Jagielka.
Hodgson had watched his side struggle to get to grips with the second half in particular, but it was England who could have stole the points deep into injury time. On his 100th cap Lampard had the chance to make a dream out of an average display, but he could only glance his header wide of the far post.
England will take more satisfaction from the point, which leaves them top of the group with two matches to go. Their next game against Montenegro takes place on October the 11th at Wembley Stadium before they face Poland four days later to conclude the campaign.