England scrape draw in Kiev to edge towards Brazil
Published 10/09/2013 | 22:02
England took a small step towards World Cup qualification after they scraped a draw in Kiev thanks to Ukraine's profligacy.
Ukraine made the most of a booming atmosphere inside the Olympic Stadium, applying pressure to Roy Hodgson's shell-shocked team, but they could not get the killer goal that would have put them top of Group H with two games left.
Hodgson had compared England's mission in the former Soviet Republic to the one that Glenn Hoddle undertook in Rome 17 years ago when the Three Lions drew 0-0 to make it to France '98.
And it was certainly a case of backs to the wall again tonight as the home side launched a barrage on the England box from the start.
Joe Hart almost gifted the hosts a first-minute lead when he brought down Roman Zozulya, but luckily for England and their out-of-form number one, the penalty was not given.
It was pretty much all Ukraine from then on. Buoyed by a sizzling atmosphere inside the sold out 70,000-seat arena, the Ukrainians created chance after chance, but they did not take any of them.
The impressive Yevgen Konoplianka set up a number of chances and Artem Fedetskiy wasted two fantastic opportunities with his head.
Although the draw moves England one point clear at the top of Group H with two matches left, this performance will have done little to satisfy those who agree with Greg Dyke's claim that the Three Lions have little chance of lifting the World Cup in Rio next year if they get there.
The defence performed strongly, but there was a distinct lack of creativity in midfield and England sorely missed the drive of Wayne Rooney, who would have proved a perfect foil for the isolated Rickie Lambert.
England have tricky home fixtures against Montenegro and Poland to come and the fact remains that Hodgson's only qualifying victories have come against world number 123 Moldova and Group H punchbags San Marino.
It was clear from before the kick-off that Ukraine were going to make it tough for England in every way possible.
Four burly Ukrainians in traditional dress pounded a giant drum to create a hostile atmosphere prior to kick-off while there was a booming call to arms from the local man on the PA system.
Hodgson admitted such was the unpredictability of international football that Hart could let a goal in through his legs in the first minute. The England goalkeeper did not do that tonight, but his start was hardly that befitting of an international goalkeeper in top form.
Just 50 seconds had gone when England's number one chopped down Zozulya while diving for a deflected cross, but luckily for England no penalty was given.
The penalty shout was the starting pistol for a helter skelter of an opening 10 minutes.
Buoyed by the booming beat of the drum, Ukraine took aim at the England box.
Hart flapped again as he failed to communicate with Gary Cahill properly. Ukraine camped out on the edge of the England box, probing the back four, but Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka held strong.
Ukraine's drive forward left them vulnerable at the back and Theo Walcott exploited the space in a rare England attack when he raced into the box and tested Andriy Pyatov before Cahill sent a header over soon after.
Steven Gerrard then misjudged a cross-field pass to allow Fedetskiy a free header at the back post but he wasted the opportunity and England breathed again.
Ukraine's early enthusiasm started to wane, allowing England more time on the ball, but the visitors failed to test Pyatov.
Gerrard sent a 25-yard curler just over and Lampard crashed a long-range free-kick well over.
Booming chants of "Ukraina, Ukraina" came through the PA system at half-time and the hosts bombed forward early on after the break through the crafty Konoplianka. He found Fedetskiy at the back post with a curling cross but the defender's header was poor.
Konoplianka fired another cross over to find Andriy Yarmolenko, but the forward tried to play a clever one-two with Gusiev that did not come off.
The Ukraine players demanded a penalty when Kyle Walker barged over Zozulya, but luckily for England the foul occurred just outside the box.
Fedetskiy had a brilliant chance to put Ukraine ahead when he jumped clear of his marker in the box but he miscued his header.
Several flares lit up one end of the stadium and a number of firecrackers went off as the home support tried to cajole their team into one more attack before the final whistle, but they had run out of energy and ended up settling for a draw.