The Three Lions knew that a point against Ukraine in Kiev would put them in a dominant position in the group and played out a stalemate on Tuesday night.
When asked whether he would be happy with a draw ahead of England’s clash with Ukraine, Roy Hodgson claimed that he sent his side out to win the game. The truth is that the Three Lions boss will be mightily relieved with a 0-0 stalemate, allowing his side to retreat to the safety of Wembley with two home games to ensure qualification to the World Cup in Brazil.
The lack of attacking options due to the unavailability of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Andy Carroll meant that opportunities to score were always going to be limited for an England side with only two real attacking players on the pitch. The key was to restrict their opponents to a similar amount of chances, which was successfully ascertained.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart and defenders Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka have been under the scrutiny of the public eye for their performances for their country of late, but a clean sheet will be real tonic for the defensive trident. The Chelsea man put in a domineering performance and was well backed-up by Jagielka. Hart was still not convincing in his showing but will take solace in his net not being breached.
In midfield solidarity ruled the roost, with creativity taking second precedence. Jack Wilshere was largely anonymous in the fixture and struggled to have an impact, while James Milner did as expected by working hard but not providing any real attacking inspiration in the final third.
It was a tough night for Rickie Lambert, as the Southampton forward was largely isolated in the visitors’ attack. Despite this, the veteran forward put in a shift and was effective in holding the ball up. No goals, but Lambert can be happy with his outing.
Home clashes with Montenegro and Poland mean that England’s destiny is well and truly in their own hands. If Hodgson’s men cannot amass the required points to qualify automatically over these two fixtures then realistically they do not deserve to be at the World Cup in the first place.
Looking at the campaign so far, England have done enough to sit on top of the pool and will now most likely make it to Brazil – the most important part of the process. However, with other teams dominating their pools, if England have ambitions of reaching the latter stages of the tournament in South America they should be doing likewise.
In their group opponents there is a lack of a top-quality adversary, yet to date England have only beaten San Marino and Moldova. Hodgson will hope two morale-boosting victories in their last two games will be a fitting end to the qualifying campaign.
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