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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Lampard spares English blushes (England 1-1 Ukraine)

In a match that saw most of the action occur in the last ten minutes, this was certainly not a comfortable game for any of the home or away fans, but it will certainly been a more pleasing display for the eastern European nation, who saw their side give England an enduring encounter.

The qualifier certainly began as a cagey affair, with neither team allowing the opposition much space. Within the first three minutes, a deflected cross from a Ukrainian winger caused Joe Hart some trouble, as he scrambled backwards to tip the ball behind for a corner.

The Euro 2012 co-hosts were without their sensational skipper Andreiy Shevchenko after it was announced he would retire following the tournament, but Oleh Blokhin's side clearly still had attacking threat, with Yarmelonko and Garmash creating problems for the English defence. A few minutes after that, Konoplianka's cross pinged around the 18-yard area before eventually falling into the grateful arms of England's number one.

But the third best international football team in the world (apparently) were not going to be bullied by their former Group D opponents. On the ninth minute mark, Jermaine Defoe picked the ball up around the left wing area, shrugged off the looming figure of Yarmolenko, ran past another defender before thumping the ball past the goalkeeper. However, in a disgraceful piece of play-acting by Dynamo Kyiv forward (who dropped to the floor clutching his face once Defoe raised his arm to shield him off) the referee was conned into disallowing the goal. Nevertheless, England were clearly showing their attacking intent.

The Three Lions defence were looking as solid as always, apart from the occasional absence of Glen Johnson as he looks to become the English answer to Dani Alves. The only brief scare that occurred during the opening minutes was when Steven Gerrard had to throw himself at the ball to block it from being guided in after a slight kerfuffle in the box. In attack, Cleverly was being restricted from being as prolific as he was during the previous match in Moldova, put Steven Gerrard was still Mr. Reliable as he fed creative passes through towards the sharp-looking Defoe. Oxlade-Chamberlin and Milner continued to be a constant threats on the wings, dribbling repeatedly past many blue shirts. Overall, a decent start for Roy Hodgson's side.

Ukrainian attacks were unfortunately still regularly. Garnash was left unmarked as he poked the ball over with the top of his foot from 6 yards out following and inviting ball from the left-back. But England came back again. Gerrard's whipped cross found the head of Defoe, who steered it poorly towards goal, only for Cleverly to latch onto the ball and hit it against the goalkeeper's shins, when nine times out of ten it would have been a simplistic finish. And then the first goal came against the run of play. Konoplynaka attacked down the left wing, quickly cutting inside of Gerrard before hitting an inch-perfect finesse shot past the helpless arms of Joe Hart. It was the first time that Ukraine has scored in three games and the first goal England had conceded in their qualifying group.

Before the half-time whistle, there were two more chances for the home team, and more specifically two more chances for Tom Cleverly. The first one was another dismal miss following a sharp ball from Lampard on the wing, which was mistimed completely by the Manchester United midfielder and squirmed yards wide. The second effort was more promising however, and he found some space on the edge of the six-yard area before thumping his shot against the outside of the post. Despite his efforts however, England went into the break a goal down to the solid Zbirna, but the performance was nothing to be ashamed of thus far.

Second half. The only possible threats upon the Pyatov's goal in the first ten minutes were Lampard's half volley from the edge of the area and Glen Johnson's unmet ground cross, none of which caused the Ukrainian number one any problems. But for every chance England had, Ukraine had a better one. Leighton Baines done well to turn a dangerous Konoplyanka cross over the bar and away from the impending Zozulya, who was waiting to pounce, and the resulting corner was caught safely by Joe Hart.

The match then descended into a mundane kick around, with Blokhin's side happy to close down England with whatever variation of attack they tried. Welbeck and Sturridge were sent on for Chamerberlin and Cleverly in an attempt to improve the attacking threat. Johnson's 68th minute solo run and shot was the only sight of goal England had during the following 20 minutes. Defoe was not the lively character that he was during the first half, and the attacking prowess from the wide midfielders had died down. England desperately needed a boost.

With 15 minutes left, England finally started to show some encouraging signs that they would get a goal, but again to no avail. Defoe and Jagielka had chances, before Welbeck toe-poked his close range effort against the post, which surely should have gone in. Minutes later, the United forward also had a penalty appeal, but was told to get up by the referee. In the midst of all of this however, Ukraine also had a very good chance, but that was thankfully saved by the Manchester City goalie.

But eventually, England's efforts finally got the response that was needed. Welbeck got the ball inside the box and attempted to flick it over his opponent, only for it to be blocked by a Ukrainian arm... penalty! Lampard stepped up to the spot, and coolly smashed it towards the left of the goal. Hope was revived. But a hectic few minutes later, the previously booked captain Steven Gerrard lunged into the back of Garmesh's legs, causing the Liverpool man to be dismissed with only a few minutes of the game remaining.

The Lions desperately searched for the a winner during injury time, but unfortunately it wasn't to be for the team in white, as they dropped crucial points at home in a brave display against a Ukraine side seeking revenge. Whether it will prove crucial in the race for the first place in this group, no-one knows, but Hodgson would certainly have been expecting three points from this game.

Ukraine: Pyatov, Gusev, Khacheridi, Rakitskiy, Selin (Shevchuk 75), Tymoschuk, Rotan (Mandzyuk 90), Yarmolenko, Garmash, Konoplyanka, Zozulya (Devic 89).
England: Hart, Johnson, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines (Bertrand 74), Lampard, Gerrard, Milner, Cleverley (Welbeck 63), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Sturridge 70), Defoe.

BeeTeeSports Man Of The Match: Yevhen Konoplyanka (8/10)

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