Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lifeless England Well Beaten by Ukraine as Robert Green Sees Red in Qualifier

Ten man England lost their 100 percent record in Group Six of the World Cup Qualifiers going down 1-0 to Ukraine in Dnipropetrovsk, after Robert Green became the first-ever English goalkeeper to be sent off in an international fixture.

The West Ham stopper saw red in the 13th minute for bringing down Artem Milevskiy who was clear on goal after Rio Ferdinand's defensive error.

Andrei Shevchenko stepped up to take the resulting penalty and sent substitute 'keeper David James the wrong way only to see his effort cannon off the post and out.

The winning goal came from a deflected shot from Sergiy Nazarenko in the 30th minute, Ashley Cole's touch taking the ball well away from the outstretched James, who had no chance.

It was all the hosts deserved as they took the game to England in a very hostile atmosphere, which could leave the Ukrainian FA facing severe sanctions from UEFA after the referee had to stop the match twice to clear flares from the pitch.

The crucial win sees Ukraine leapfrog Croatia into a potential playoff place with only one game to go. The result seems a foregone conclusion as Ukraine travel to lowly Andorra, who are still without a point and who have so far conceded 33 goals from only nine matches.

Should Ukraine qualify for the playoffs as expected, they will face one from France, Russia, Portugal, or Greece, after FIFA changed the playoff rules last week to favour the higher ranking teams so they could not draw each other.

The sending off had immediate ramifications for Tottenham Hotspur's Aaron Lennon, who Capello immediately withdrew despite his good start to the game.

With England down to ten men, and employing a 4-3-2 formation, Ukraine unsurprisingly dominated possession.

Rio Ferdinand, playing only his third game for England in the last 12 months, carried his club form into the international arena and put in a display that will possibly leave Fabio Capello looking for answers elsewhere as he puts his team together for their assault on South Africa.

Ukraine dictated the flow of the game, but they didn't really create much before Nazarenko's goal. It sparked some life into England though as Frank Lampard's shot went agonizingly close to finding the angle of the goal as it sailed wide.

But Milevskiy came close to doubling Ukraine's lead when his rising shot smashed off the upright, with James well beaten again.

The goalkeeping situation for Capello is almost reaching boiling point. Ben Foster is low on confidence and does not have the required concentration for international football, Robert Green is in a similar boat to Foster so that leaves James, who was never top class, and at 39 has seen his best days go by.

For England there were few highlights in the first half other than Glen Johnson's penetrating runs up the right.

Steven Gerrard made way for Aston Villa's James Milner at half time, after the Liverpool man appeared to pick up a knock in a challenge by Kobin in injury time.

His club manager will be sweating on the physio report as Liverpool embark on their toughest run of fixtures over the coming weeks. Without Gerrard, their title ambitions would be severely hampered.

England were more composed after the break, the foundation in formation that Milner gave over Gerrard seemed to suit the team better and they started to get slightly on top.

They still had to be on their toes though, as David James pulled off a wonder save that denied Ukraine a certain goal as he tipped Rakitskiy's 40-yard thunderbolt over the bar.

The Three Lions continued to have good possession, but they created very little in chances, and they had James to thank again late on after he blocked a shot from Yarmolenko following a swift counter-attack after Johnson had lost possession.

It was a very poor performance by England. Having gained qualification last month, this game was an important one as it would have sent a signal to all of England's rivals that they were a force to be reckoned with.

But the manner of their performance will leave Capello scratching his head as to what went wrong. Important players throughout the team, particularly defence, put in sub-standard performances, and only the indomitable Wayne Rooney can hold his head high.

Not one defender merited a performance award higher than a six, and Rio Ferdinand was someway behind that again.

Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard were somewhat subdued in the 4-3-2 formation, that obviously had a large effect on England's forward play.

The vast majority of the 23-man World Cup squad picks itself, but Capello will have some huge decisions to make concerning some key positions, and there could be some massive casualties as players get left out of the squad.

Namely Rio Ferdinand. The Manchester United defender has only played three times under Capello in the last year, and is so clearly lacking match fitness at this level, despite claiming he is fully fit.

With players like Gary Cahill knocking on the door and others like Everton's Phil Jagielka still to come back from injury, Ferdinand could have a battle on his hands if his form does not improve between now and next April.

South Africa beckons.

Follow Premier League Report on Twitter: twitter / PremLgeReport