A victory in the end

This was the first authentic challenge Fabio Capello’s England had experienced at Wembley in a competitive match. For a spell, that was engrossing for a side unmoved by most of the games at the venue, writes Kevin McCarra.

Fabio Capello spent 11 uncomfortable minutes in which he learnt just how confounded so many previous England managers had felt. His erratic side had been flagging well before an equaliser from Ukraine’s substitute Andriy Shevchenko. A winner had not felt inevitable then, but it arrived in the 85th minute because of a vulnerability at set-pieces shared by both teams.

The substitute David Beckham delivered from the right, Steven Gerrard connected with a downward header and the captain, John Terry, knocked the ball home with his left foot. England continue to have a perfect record in these qualifiers, but the flaws accumulated in every other respect.

Claus Bo Larsen could have reduced England to nine men. The referee took no action when Gareth Barry, already booked for a foul on Artem Milevsky, tugged the same opponent down inside the area. There was an extraordinary misreading of an incident after the interval when Wayne Rooney hurtled through the air to connect with Oleksandr Aliev as well as the ball. The official supposed the Ukrainian had been feigning injury, when the attacking midfielder could have been badly hurt.

There were wider causes for reflection on England’s gradual deterioration, even if it was indicative of their spirit that the team rallied to win. Capello put that down to Ukraine’s freshness because their domestic season is in its early stages. In private, the manager would deny his squad access to such convenient excuses.

Each goal for England was marked with its own cute celebration. Following the winner, Rooney pretended to be trimming Terry’s hair, having given him a real haircut at the hotel previously in the week. The side would have been better advised to mark the goal with gestures of relief.

This was the first authentic challenge Capello’s England had experienced at Wembley in a competitive match. For a spell, that was engrossing for a side unmoved by most of the games at the venue.

When they did take the lead through Peter Crouch there was a tone of achievement, although the breakthrough had come in an unexpectedly plain manner.

With 29 minutes gone, Frank Lampard sent over a deep corner from the left, Terry nodded down and Crouch, in his first start under Capello, volleyed into the net. The match itself had not been so elementary. There was abrasiveness and while Terry had intended no harm when bloodying Andriy Voronin’s nose with a swinging arm it was an incident that seemed to belong to Wembley.

While Capello’s men had territorial domination the opposition were never cowed. Recent history implied England and Ukraine had been invented to cancel one another out. Each had been knocked out in the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup before failing to qualify for Euro 2008. Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko, however, is a novice by comparison with Capello.

There were flaws in the Ukraine ranks and not merely when Crouch broke the deadlock. Rooney was in no mood to be contained by the captain, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, or anyone else. He had completed a long one-two with Aaron Lennon 10 minutes before the interval, but then hit a poorly directed drive. By that stage, Ukraine were discerning signs of hope.

The occasional uncomfortable incident cropped up for England, as when an attempt by Tymoshchuk cannoned off the chest of David James. If the Ukrainian manager did carry an advantage to Wembley it lay in the fact that his squad was nearer to full strength than England’s, who had lost three strikers to injury. Some would still reply that this was of scant benefit to Mykhaylychenko when his preferred attacker was Voronin. On this showing Liverpool cannot have rued lending him to Hertha Berlin.

England were better served. Rooney never seems to take his own place for granted, even if his urgency can get out of control. Capello had suggested that the player must be in a role where he gets the regular involvement in the action which his nature craves. In the 49th minute he raced sideways past a few opponents, but was in no position to do anything more than put a low attempt wide.

If there was volatility left in Rooney the match became somewhat calmer. That was of no assistance to Ukraine and Mykhaylychenko reacted to a vapid showing from Voronin by replacing him with the former Chelsea striker Shevchenko. Capello, for his part, had introduced Beckham.

A free-kick from the right seemed within his range after 64 minutes, but it dipped a little late and cleared the crossbar. Ultimately, he would find his range in setting up the decisive goal, but here were few signs that England, while 1-0 in front, were on the verge of putting the match beyond the visitors’ reach

This had turned into a staid affair and therein lay the danger for fading England. With 75 minutes gone, a free-kick from the right broke to Shevchenko off Glen Johnson and he fired past James. Life had become complex for Capello and his men. Nonetheless, the team came up with a solution in the midst of all the muddle.

THE RESULTS EUROPE

April 1: Andorra 0 lost to Croatia 2. Half-time: 0-2; Austria 2 bt Romania 1. Half-time: 2-1; Bosnia-Herzegovina 2 bt Belgium 1. Half-time: 2-0; Bulgaria 2 bt Cyprus 0. Half-time: 1-0; Czech Republic 1 lost to Slovakia 2. Half-time: 1-1; Denmark 3 bt Albania 0. Half-time: 2-0; England 2 bt Ukraine 1. Half-time: 1-0; Estonia 1 bt Armenia 0. Half-time: 0-0; France 1 bt Lithuania 0. Half-time: 0-0; Georgia 0 drew with Montenegro 0; Greece 2 bt Israel 1. Half-time: 1-0; Holland 4 bt FYR Macedonia 0. Half-time: 3-0; Hungary 3 bt Malta 0. Half-time: 1-0; Italy 1 drew with Rep. of Ireland 1. Half-time: 1-0; Kazakhstan 1 lost to Belarus 5. Half-time: 1-0; Latvia 2 bt Luxembourg 0. Half-time: 1-0; Liechtenstein 0 lost to Russia 1. Half-time: 0-1; Northern Ireland 1 bt Slovenia 0. Half-time: 0-0; Poland 10 bt San Marino 0. Half-time: 4-0; Scotland 2 bt Iceland 1. Half-time: 1-0; Switzerland 2 bt Moldova 0. Half-time: 1-0; Turkey 1 lost to Spain 2. Half-time: 1-0; Wales 0 lost to Germany 2. Half-time: 0-1; Norway 3 bt Finland 2. Half-time: 0-1; Serbia 2 bt Sweden 0. Half-time: 1-0.

ASIA

April 1: Saudi Arabia 3 bt United Arab Emirates 2. Half-time: 1-2; Australia 2 bt Uzbekistan 0. Half-time 0-0; South Korea 1 bt DPR Korea 0. Half-time: 0-0; Bahrain 1 bt Qatar 0. Half-time: 0-0.

NORTH, CENTRAL AMERICA & CARIBBEAN

April 1: Costa Rica 1 bt El Salvador 0. Half-time: 1-0; Honduras 3 bt Mexico 1. Half-time 2-0; USA 3 bt Trinidad and Tobago 0. Half-time: 1-0.

SOUTH AMERICA

April 1: Brazil 3 bt Peru 0. Half-time: 2-0; Chile 0 drew with Uruguay 0; Ecuador 1 drew with Paraguay 1. Half-time: 0-0; Bolivia 6 bt Argentina 1. Half-time: 3-1.

March 31: Venezuela 2 bt Colombia 0. Half-time: 0-0.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009