England-Ukraine: Fabio Capello Relieved after Insipid Performance
Will David Beckham run out of skin to tattoo? Can Frank Lampard and Andriy Shevchenko just get a room? Does Capello actually have emotions? Did David Pleat actually call Andriy Voronin anaemic?
With little by way of notable entertainment during England's World Cup Qualifying home match against Ukraine, I looked in vain for something interesting to analyse.
It was perhaps surprising therefore in this context when the television cameras panned to the England coach punching the air in relief rather than delight after watching his side battle to an uninspiring 2-1 victory over group rivals Ukraine at Wembley.
For all of England's possession and Wayne Rooney's stellar football, Andriy Shevchenko looked to have punished England for their inability to finish off mediocre opponents with an instinctive close-range strike in the closing minutes.
However, man of the match captain John Terry was in the right place at the right time to guide a cushioned Steven Gerrard header into the net from close range in the 85th minute despite a suspicion that it was from an offside position.
Capello resisted the temptation to start icon David Beckham on the right after an encouraging second-half display during the 4-0 friendly victory over Slovakia at the weekend. Lennon started on the right and, with Peter Crouch upfront. The emphasis was to use the full width of the big playing surface to create some space away from the compressed midfield area.
To their credit, the visitors effectively cut off this service to Lennon in particular and were combative in the midfield, none more so than the impressive Anatoliy Tymoschuk. On the plus side for England, this tactic allowed Wayne Rooney to expertly explore the pockets of space that opened up in front of the visitors' defence.
Rooney's effervescence and intelligent movement and vision was comfortably England's biggest threat going forward and, in the 13th minute, he played a fine one-two with Gerrard on the left and skidded an excellent ball to the other side of the pitch, only for a dangerous Lennon cross to be cleared to safety from in front of goal. This was a move that was replicated half way through the first half with a similar result.
England's ascendancy was rewarded in the 29th minute later when Peter Crouch acrobatically turned in a cushioned header from John Terry from yards out despite the best efforts of the onrushing Ukrainian goalkeeper Andrii Piatov.
There was reason for Capello to be concerned shortly afterwards as Gareth Barry, already booked for a clumsy challenge, was fortunate to escape without further punishment after hauling down the tricky striker Milevskiy and David James struggled to keep out Liverpool reject Voronin's seemingly harmless long-range strike on goal.
Capello will have been relatively pleased as the half-time whistle blew as his side were seemingly on course for a comfortable, problem-free victory.
He will not have been pleased by what was to follow as England slowly let their grip on the game slip through a combination of sloppy play in possession and a lack of incisiveness in both their moving and decision-making in key areas of the pitch.
Rooney was the only player whose level of performance had not visibly dropped as he surged past three flailing defenders with consummate ease before scorching a shot past Pitaov's near post.
One player who had flattered to deceive, Aaron Lennon, was replaced shortly into the second half by Beckham. An incident where Lennon aimlessly floated the ball onto the head of a defender after more sumptuous build-up play by Rooney seemed to convince Capello that he had seen enough.
Despite this understandable substitution, what Lennon lacks in quality of delivery he makes up for in pace and Beckham's introduction failed to add impetus to the home side's performance. So much so that it was the Eastern Europeans that levelled the scores when fellow high-profile replacement Shevchenko proved his many doubters wrong by latching on to a loose ball in the six-yard box to fire past a helpless David James.
Capello and his staff reacted to this shock by bringing on Shaun Wright-Phillips for a waning Crouch, who had worked tirelessly to deny the Ukrainian defenders an easy route out of defence.
The diminutive Manchester City winger moved to the left-flank, Gerrard slotted in behind lone striker Rooney, and Beckham remained on his favoured right side. While this reduced Rooney's impact on the match, Beckham came to the fore—just in the nick of time.
In similar circumstances to those which led to England's opener, a headed knockdown set up a simple close-range finish, this time for the deserving captain John Terry, who was commanding throughout.
Five matches, 15 points, no more injuries. A good night's work? Perhaps...but Capello will rightly expect more from this talented group of players.
England 2 (Crouch '29, Terry '85) Ukraine 1 (Shevchenko '74)
England—James 5, Johnson 6, Terry 8, Ferdinand 7 (Jagielka n/a), Cole 5; Lennon 5 (Beckham 6), Lampard 7, Barry 5, Gerrard 6; Crouch 6 (Wright-Phillips 5), Rooney 8
Ukraine—Piatov 6; Yarmash 6, Mykhalyk 6, Chigrinsky 6, Shevchuk 7; Aliev 6, Slyusar 6, Tymoschuk 7, Valyaev 6; Voronin 5 (Shevchenko 7), Milevskiy 5
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