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The Make or Break Game – A look back at Ukraine v England

12 September 2013 by

This was a crucial game for both teams with the home side in my view the team under pressure. A must win game for Ukraine if they were to stand a chance of qualification and although they were in their own backyard the fans could just as easily become their enemy, instead of their friends. If they lost, that would Ukraine’s hopes of automatic qualification almost gone.

For England, it was a must not lose game because if they were defeated then Ukraine would be the favourites to top group H, and the Three Lions would be in a fight with Montenegro for a play off place to qualify for Brazil next year.

The atmosphere seemed to be quite daunting for the players from my perspective, the fans seemed to jeer England’s national anthem and they joined in with their anthem too.

There was very early pressure form the home side, and England goalkeeper Hart could have been shown a red card in the first minute. He rushed out to deny Zozulya who appeared to be brought down, but thankfully for England supporters it was only a corner, after a delayed decision from the referee. It was a heart in mouth moment for fans but I think it would have been a harsh call to give.

The Manchester City goalkeeper continued his nervy start after struggling to deal with Zozulya who was eager to get a header away from the ball in. If it wasn’t for some good defending from Cahill, Joe Hart could have been facing far more criticism from the media than he already has been recently.

Between the mistakes from the England number one, England were testing the Ukrainians from corners. They struggled to deal with Gerrard’s balls in but nothing proved costly, after their failure to man mark the Liverpool player.

It was a fast paced opening, with it looking an intriguing game for the neutral but for England fans it was hard to watch even when they were on the attack. It was chances galore, but none were clear cut, with both teams wanting to win to fulfil expectations.

Both defences were panicking apart from Gary Cahill who threw his body on the line and cleared the ball when required. He acted as the John Terry type player England need, leading the defence, there was no way he wanted to concede. This is why he was England’s best performer, he acted as a vice captain in everything but name.

Whenever Ukraine were on the counter, the full backs bombed forward which allowed space for Milner and Walcott to exploit. On the other hand, the home team were dangerous with the pace of their wingers both cutting inside.

England’s attacks were very different, Lambert held up the ball to allow others to either run past him for the shot or let the midfield drive into the spaces that were vacant as well as have a go from distance.

As the men in red grew into the encounter, they used up less energy by playing a counter attacking style to use the pace of Walcott and Walker on the right hand side. With ten minutes left of the first half, both teams were playing a similar style but England were more comfortable. There were some sloppy passes from both sides especially in the final third, which didn’t make for good viewing.

At the interval, it would have been Hodgson who would have been the happier of the two managers but no team looked as if they could win. The reason for this was that both teams lacked that bit of quality to convert the chances, Lambert didn’t get enough service when he did get into the box.

In the second half, it would either have been bags full of goals or maybe one which could have gone either way. It was more likely to be the latter and I was proved to be correct.

As in the first half, it was Ukraine who started off the brighter and still no real chances were mustered. England were starting to get annoyed due to the fact they couldn’t get started and were continuing to make sloppy passes.

Ukraine’s best move of the game came just before the hour mark and it was, their best player, Konoplianka who started it all off. It involved some creative passing and moving from their attack minded players which opened up England to the extent where Hart was called upon to grab the ball.

With a quarter of the game to go, Roy brought an end to a disappointing night for Jack Wilshere to bring on Young. He was brought on to try and get the goal, and it moved Milner to the centre which did give Gerrard and Lampard that opportunity to go forward.

Once the substitution was made, there was another tense moment for England. A Konoplianka free kick which was struck hard and low took a slight deflection off Jagielka to take it beyond the post.

The Three Lions lost their shape and relied too much on the centre backs and Hart especially from set pieces. The expectation which was shown by the players was that they hoping to score on the counter, but the wingers were wasteful when they did have the ball.

Both teams were crying out for that player that would seize the opportunity and just have a go or produce that bit of skill to create some sort of a real chance. It was nail biting stuff for fans and mangers alike, no team wanted to make that big move because of the potential risks. It turned into a tactical battle which was similar to the Man United v Chelsea game.

At the final whistle, England got the point that they desired even though they did come close from a Lampard header on what would have been a great end to his 100th cap. The game lacked that cutting edge, it was initially a promising game which turned out to be a sluggish game. Both teams were reluctant to make the important move so they were willing to take a point.

It wasn’t an exciting performance but it was the minimum requirement which could have been worse if the ref gave into the crowd. Set pieces looked the most likely way of a route to goal with both teams struggling to defend them for one reason or another.

Wilshere summed up the performance for England; he lost possession easily, swept aside when he was challenged and he took a couple of knocks which was infuriating. To sum up the team didn’t show their true talent.

On paper we looked the better team. I think in the build up, Ukraine were overestimated and England were underestimated.

The full backs were caught ball watching as well as caught napping, but they will learn from their mistakes to take into the next two games of the campaign. Sometimes, when we were on the break, Walker and Cole didn’t get back in time and did rely on Cahill and Jagielka too much.

The pairing were called upon far too much for my liking, but they dealt with everything. They were disciplined and never looked really troubled to the extent of that they were forced to make an error. They were the key players in the 0-0 draw, and if they weren’t as cautious it could have been a whole lot different. To sum it up in two words, it would be job done.

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