England will have to wait a little longer to qualify for Euro 2024 after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Ukraine in Poland, as their 100 per cent record in qualifying came to an end.
Despite dominating possession in the early stages, England fell behind with the game’s first shot on target as Arsenal’s Oleksandr Zinchenko netted for Ukraine after a breakaway down the right.
England equalised just before half-time through Kyle Walker’s first international goal on his 77th cap, as the Manchester City defender finished in the box after Harry Kane’s sublime defence-splitting pass from deep.
Bukayo Saka struck the bar while Harry Maguire missed several half-chances from set-pieces, as England improved their tempo after the break but found no final pass to get the three points.
The Three Lions remain six points clear of second-placed Ukraine, as attention turns to a friendly away to in-form Scotland on Tuesday night.
England player ratings
England: Pickford (6), Walker (8), Maguire (6), Guehi (7), Chilwell (6), Henderson (6), Rice (6), Bellingham (7), Maddison (6), Saka (6), Kane (7).
Subs used: Rashford (4), Foden (4), Gallagher (n/a)
Player of the match: Kyle Walker.
How England slipped up for first time in qualifying
After England manager Gareth Southgate selected Jordan Henderson and Maguire in his line-up, England came out strongly in the first 10 minutes, holding 94 per cent of the ball in that period but created very little.
Only a blocked Saka shot from distance went in the direction of the Ukrainian goal, before the hosts made them pay for their lack of cutting edge early on with a shock opener.
- Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire were named in the starting XI despite recent and very different controversies about their selection.
- James Maddison and Ben Chilwell both started on the left, while Marc Guehi partnered Maguire at centre-back. Eddie Nketiah was not named in the matchday squad.
Georgiy Sudakov broke through the middle of the pitch to release right-back Yukhym Konoplya on a lung-bursting run. The defender crossed for the unmarked Zinchenko, who tapped home a simple finish to send the home fans in Wroclaw wild.
England lost their composure in the minutes that followed, with a sloppy yellow card for James Maddison summing up a largely frustrating half.
The Tottenham midfielder spurned a good chance to level but his poor touch from Jude Bellingham’s pass denied him a one-on-one, before Henderson blazed over from the edge of the box.
Eventually, England found their way through.
Kane, who had just 16 touches in the first half, dropped into the centre-back position and produced a sublime cross-field pass for the onrushing Walker, who trapped down the ball with a superb touch before showing composure to bring the Three Lions level.
Frustrated by the first-half performance, Southgate must have rallied the troops during the half-time interval as the Three Lions looked a different outfit in the second period.
Maguire headed onto the roof of the net from a free-kick, before Saka rattled the crossbar with a dipping strike that was tipped onto the woodwork by Ukraine goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan.
Southgate brought Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden on to lift the attacking mood but neither managed to make a considerable impact.
Instead, it was Maguire who had the last real chance of the game for England as he failed to finish at the far post after Henderson’s flick-on, with Bushchan doing enough to deny the defender before earning a free-kick.
An evening where the majority of England’s main chances came from their defenders, it shows a lot of work needs to be done before Germany next summer.
Southgate: Attack didn’t click today
In his post-match assessment, England manager Southgate said his team “didn’t click” in the final third but stressed this draw represented a positive point in the perspective of qualifying.
“The reality is we’re not going to win every game by fours and sevens as we’ve done in this qualifying campaign,” the England boss said.
“That was a really good test – away from home, very passionate atmosphere, quite a few changes forced from the last game.
“So, sometimes, especially with attacking play, it doesn’t quite click. We know that the patterns that we worked during the week are what we always do, so it’s not that we approach the game in a different way.
“We tried to refresh things to give them a different sort of problem but today our forward play bar the goal and probably Bukayo’s effort that hit the bar wasn’t at the level that it has been in our previous games.
“I think what I liked was the control of the game that we had when you come into an intense atmosphere like there was. I thought we played with real composure up until the final third and then I think by the time we scored the goal we’d had over 70 per cent of the ball but that was our first attempt on target.
“So clearly, most of our attacking play wasn’t at the level that we would have hoped it to be. But I thought given the circumstances and the importance of the point in terms of qualification and coming from behind when the crowd are full and the opposition have something to hang on to.
“It’s a very important point for us and we’ve now played the two best ranked teams away from home and we’ve got four points from those two games.”
Ukraine boss’ message to England: Possession is not enough!
Ukraine were playing in the Polish city of Wroclaw as the invasion by Russia continues to impact their homeland, and manager Sergey Rebrov hailed the spirit of his players, rewarded with joyous scenes at full-time for getting a precious point.
“It’s a pleasure for the players, a very good celebration for them,” he said. “It’s not only about the result, it’s about the game. Ukraine is a very strong side and I think we deserved this point.
“If you see the faces of the players, they are very tired. It’s very tough and hard to play against England.
“The character, we showed it. That’s very important. I’ve only been working for several months and the players have the wish to improve.”
Former striker Rebrov, who played in the Premier League for Tottenham and West Ham, also gave some advice to England on how to improve on their final third play.
“England was very strong in first-half, good at controlling the ball. But in football controlling the ball is not enough,” he said.
“I said at half-time, how many chances did they create? They didn’t because we defended very well.”
Elsewhere in Group C: Italy draw with North Macedonia
Italy also slipped up in their pursuit of the European Championships as a late equaliser restricted them to a 1-1 draw at North Macedonia.
In Luciano Spalletti’s first game as Azzurri boss, Ciro Immobile gave Italy the lead just after half-time but Enis Bardhi equalised with nine minutes to go.
The result leaves both teams on four points, nine points behind England in top spot, though Italy have two games in hand over the Three Lions.
England now take on Scotland in a friendly at Hampden Park on Tuesday – kick-off 7.45pm.
Southgate’s side then return to action in October for the next international break when they face Australia at Wembley in a friendly on October 13. That is followed by a crunch Euro qualifier against Italy four days later on October 17 at the same venue.
Ukraine’s next game is a Euro 2024 Qualifier against Italy at San Siro on Tuesday – kick-off 7.45pm.