England's World Cup qualification campaign begins here tonight. OK, technically it began last Friday night in Moldova, but everyone involved knew that was just a box-ticking exercise, well as England played in dispatching the minnows. This is their first big Group H test. It is on!
"It", that said, should still be an easy enough home victory. England have played Ukraine five times previously, winning four, the most recent being that game nobody quite remembers from Euro 2012. Their one loss came in October 2009, a 1-0 defeat which meant little, for they had already qualified for the 2010 World Cup. History is on England's side.
But Oleg Blokhin - or Олег Блохін if we're being pedantic - would love to gain a modicum of revenge over the teakm which knocked Ukraine out of their own tournament last summer. England are strong favourites for the victory tonight - you can win a bumper £4 jackpot for an £11 investment at your local turf accountancy - but Ukraine might just be in the mood to go for this. Blokhin has stated that his side "will lose 8-0" if they come out with the defeatist attitude (perhaps understandably) shown by the Moldovans. So hopefully, for the purposes of entertainment, they'll fly out of the blocks, and this could be quite the ding-dong affair. It's also to be hoped that Blokhin loses his rag again at some point before, during or after the match, so he comes up with another euphemism for throwing hands as good as "man conversation".
Kick off: Eight bells.
England: Hart, Johnson, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines, Lampard, Gerrard, Milner, Cleverley, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Defoe.
Subs: Ruddy, Walker, Bertrand, Cahill, Carrick, Livermore, Lallana, Sturridge, Welbeck, Sterling, Butland.
Ukraine: Pyatov, Gusev, Khacheridi, Rakitskiy, Selin, Tymoschuk, Rotan, Yarmolenko, Garmash, Konoplianka, Zozulya.
Subs: Koval, Shevchuk, Bezus, Mandzyuk, Nazarenko, Stepanenko, Butko, Devic, Dykan.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)
The teams are out! England are in their trademark white with trademark red and no trademark blue. Ukraine sport their blue away shirts with blue breeks. And then the anthems. Ukraine's achieves a feat hitherto thought melodically impossible: it's even more of a dirge than God Save The Queen. Nevertheless, I prefer it. Shche ne vmerla Ukraina!
And we're off! England get the ball rolling, and lose it with extreme speed. A couple of challenges. Gerrard is limping around after a clatter with Zozulya, while Garmash is rolling around on the floor in agony, having been pelted with the ball. This is carnage. Onwards and upwards.
3 min: Ukraine are enjoying a lot of the ball here. Hopefully it'll stay that way for a while, if only to shut the house band up awhile. "Nice to see where you're setting the bar for tonight by linking to something we can't see because, apparently, the copyright has expired," writes Phil Sawyer, one ironic eyebrow going up and down so quickly it should come with a warning for epileptics. "I'm quite tempted to have that on my gravestone: 'This content has been removed as our copyright has expired'." That's what I get for only reading down as far as the headline. But what a headline! Tells you all you need to know, and leaves everything else up to the imagination. It's our version of Hemingway's "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn". Sort of.
4 min: Yarmolenko makes some space for himself down the right and loops a cross towards the far post. And it's towards the far post alright, because the ball hits that wooden upright after evading a confused Hart. The ball had been deflected, and bounces out for a corner which is easily cleared.
6 min: Well this is quite a start from Ukraine. Husyev is sent towards the right-hand byline by Yarmolenko, who sends a low ball into the six-yard box. Zozulya traps with his back to goal, but can't control properly, and England hack clear. This is a very confident opening period from the visitors.
7 min: But England respond well through Johnson, who was excellent going forward in Moldova and looks up for it tonight too. He takes on Selin, and waltzes past him into the area. He keeps drifing inside, then looks to slip in Lampard, who's bombing down the inside-right channel. But Rakitskly gets in the way to hoick the ball away from danger.
9 min: England are living dangerously here. Konoplyanka twists down the left, finds some space, and curls a ball into the area for the onrushing Yarmolenko, who picks up the ball level with the left-hand post ten yards out. But he can't kill it dead, and it zips through to Hart, who was alert to the danger. Still, if the Ukrainian displayed a better touch there, England would probably be a goal down now.
10 min: Defoe picks the ball up down the inside-left channel, drops a shoulder, and unleashes an absolute pearler into the bottom-left corner! It would be one of the great England goals of recent times - but in making good down the channel, he put his hand into the throat of Yarmolenko, who hits the ground. It's a bit of an over-reaction by the Ukrainian, but the referee's well within his rights to blow for a free kick, which is exactly what he does. It's probably also worth noting that the whistle went, clearly and loudly, well before Defoe hit his shot.
14 min: Cleverley is robbed by Tymoshchuk in the middle of the park, putting England in all sorts of bother. Rotan slides the ball out left to Konoplyanka, who cuts inside and bundles the ball back for Zozulya, who looks to sidefoot into the bottom-right corner. He beats Hart, and the ball's going in, but Gerrard is back to clear superbly. England would have been livid had they conceded then, straight off the back of what was admittedly a soft free kick that cost them a goal.
16 min: That was a fairly hectic few minutes, and the game's settled down again. England are struggling to get much in the way of possession, though, with Ukraine happily stroking it around the middle. "Thought you'd be covering the Scotland game tonight, Scott, in honour of Olympic gold medallist and US Open champion Andy Murray and his new best buds Sirs Sean and Alex," writes Simon McMahon. "Actually, probably wise to do England. Nothing is guaranteed to kill the party mood quicker than watching the Scotland football team." Aye, preach on brother. But regardless of what Levein's mob are up to, what's in danger of harshing Sir Sean's buzz? Marbella hasn't entered a team in the World Cup, has it?
19 min: This has got a very vague England-Italy-at-Euro-2012 feel all of a sudden. A lot of possession for the men in blue, England hoofing it up the channels whenever they get the chance. Nobody's really getting anywhere at present. "Don't know when that pic of the mighty Sven was taken," begins John Smyth, "but that Ericsson factory in Basingstoke has since been shuttered. As long lasting as Sven's own legacy." But at least twice as memorable, if your email alone is anything to go by.
22 min: This is better from England, who are pinging it around patiently in the midfield. Eventually something nearly comes off for them, when Gerrard quickens the pace by sliding a ball straight down the middle for Defoe, who with his back to goal flicks it down the inside-right channel for Milner. The Ukraine defence panics a wee bit, but Pyatov has read the situation well and comes out to claim before Milner can get anywhere near the ball.
25 min: Ukraine were the better side during the opening 15 minutes or so, and England have done well to impose themselves on this game. Not in the dramatic up-and-at-'em sense, it's the possession thing again. But this is modern football, it says here. Anyway, seeing we're in the middle of something of a lull, here's some more on the building Sven opened in Basingstoke back in 2001. "The building is in Chineham Business Park," reports Charlie Beauregard. "It's ridiculously been built on marsh land so is sinking by about an inch a year which is not quite as quick as Sven's career is heading south." That's not too far from the dump, is it? Seeing were in the business of cheap metaphors, which I am.
27 min: Milner's been pretty lively, and here he comes again, blazing down the inside-right channel. He cocks his peg to shoot, but is denied at the last by a magnificent sliding tackle from Selin. From the resulting corner on the right, the ball's flown to the far post, where Jagielka is on hand to nut the ball goalwards. But his effort, while on target, is weak, and easily blocked. This has been a really good few minutes from England, who are playing some calm and considered football.
29 min: Ukraine were attacking England at will down either flank for a while, but now the passes aren't sticking. Garmash thinks about making ground down the right, but Gerrard is on hand to break up the move. "Are we allowed to offer our own six word short stories, a la Hemingway?" wonders Phil Sawyer. "'The MBM. Last hope. Hit 'send'.' There. That covers the full gamut of human emotion."
30 min: And then sleepy England nearly concede. Selin strokes a lovely curling, looping ball into the area from deep on the left. The English defence are fannying around, allowing Garmash to get a yard on them. He looks to stud the ball into the net from head height - and with no player near him, dangerous play wouldn't be a problem - but can only guide it over the crossbar. Not sure what anyone in white was doing then, or Hart in his red garb, come to think of it.
33 min: What a miss by Basingstoke boy Tom Cleverley. Gerrard curls a ball into the area from the right. It finds Defoe level with the left-hand post, in acres of space and onside. Defoe miscues a header straight across goal to Cleverley, who only has Pyatov to beat from close range. He sidefoots straight at the keeper. You don't see this sort of nonsense at the Camrose. (Not sure that reference works particularly well outside of north Hampshire, but there you have it.)
36 min: A ball sent into the England area from the left is dummied by Yarmolenko for Zozulya, 12 yards out, level with the far post. He blasts a poor shot over the bar. It's becoming an increasingly difficult game to read, this one, although were this a Man Conversation I'd probably have England ahead on points.
38 min: England again with the possession. This is the way forward, even if it's not always the way forward. "So the ref's called 'Cuneyt'?" notes Nick Pettigrew. "I take it we're not touching that joke, then?" No. No we are not. Got some Guardian values going on over here!
39 min: GOAL!!! England 0-1 Ukraine. What an amazing goal this is. Tymoshchuk has the ball in the middle of the English half. He takes a touch and knocks the ball wide left for Konoplyanka, who advances on the area, cuts inside, and curls a pacy effort into the top-right corner. Hart had absolutely no chance whatsoever, that was a stupendous strike.
41 min: Cleverley romps down the right but his cross - hectically hit, the player desperate to make amends for that miss - is overhit. Oxlade-Chamberlain works well down the left to salvage a corner out of the situation, but the set piece is poor and comes to naught. "If Sven's business park is in a marsh, then presumably it was built on the island in the marsh, or in northern parlance t'island," begins one-man double-act Robin Hazlehurst, a feedline which sets himself up for this: "Which, coincidentally enough, is where Sven is now rumoured to be." He's here all week, ladies and gentlemen. Try the Chicken Kiev.
44 min: Ukraine are looking to see the half out, but it's getting desperate. Milner is this close to breaking free down the right, but he can't quite control. The ball's soon coming straight back at Ukraine, with Lampard taking his turn to skate free down the right. His low pullback finds Cleverley in the middle, eight yards out, but the young man's confidence looks a wee bit shot, and he fluffs a low-contact sidefoot miles wide left of the target.
45 min: Cleverley's confidence shot, did I say? Not a bit of it. He ran back upfield from that missed chance looking pained, but now he's back, picking up a low ball inside from the right from Milner, dropping a shoulder in the area, and hammering a delicious rising shot past Pyatov and onto the right-hand post. The ball clanks away from danger.
HALF TIME: England 0-1 Ukraine. And that's that for the first 45 minutes. England can consider themselves unlucky to be losing, especially as Defoe's strike was ruled out for a very soft foul. But if you raise your hands and dust someone's jowls with them, there's always a chance the ref is going to tootle his whistle. And oh me, oh my, that was some strike by Konoplyanka. It's a goal worthy of winning any match - although England will be hoping desperately that it doesn't get such reward here. Second half should be a cracker.
HALF-TIME ADVERTISEMENT or Why The 1970s Chicken Kiev Revolution Had To Happen:
And here's the fantastic Felicity Cloake explaining how to cook the perfect chicken Київ.
So, here we go, it's the second half! No changes. Ukraine get the ball rolling. "Where can I buy these baby shoes you're flogging?" asks Steve Buist. "And how much?"
46 min: A bit of a shapeless opening to the half. England knock it around a bit, but the possession's squandered when Johnson, down the right, lets the ball roll under his foot and out of play.
47 min: Defoe challenges for a high ball with Tymoshchuk. He plants his left elbow - not with any great force, it has to be said - into the Ukrainian's coupon. He's booked for his trouble, and can't really complain. Although that's exactly what he does do.
49 min: Gerrard sprays the ball wide right for Johnson, who romps towards the box. He trundles a magnificent ball along the corridor of uncertainty. It bounces straight through the six-yard box and away for a corner on the left, having taken the smallest of deflections off a Ukrainian peg. The corner is a total nonsense. "Guardian values?" splutters Dan Brake apropos my 38th-minute diktat re dubious ref-based wordplay. "I remember a time when you could never print an article without a spelling mistake." Stay awhile. Click around. You'll find something soon enough.
51 min: Oxlade-Chamberlain gifts the ball to Yarmolenko down the right. Yarmolenko whips a dangerous ball straight through the area, forcing Johnson to slide out for a corner to the left of goal with Zozulya lurking. The resulting corner isn't particularly good, but does allow Rotan to drag a risible shot wide left of goal.
52 min: Defoe fights down the inside-left channel. On the edge of the area, the ball breaks to Lampard, who hits a first-time effort with the outside of his boot, looking for the top right. It's a clever off-the-cuff attempt, but always sailing wide right of goal.
54 min: England have started pinging long balls down the channel again. It's not working for them. Gerrard is booked for planting his elbow, Defoe style, in Rotan's right cheek. That's drawn blood, and could easily have been a red card. A harsh red card, maybe, but you couldn't have run the referee out of town if he'd decided to punish the England captain further. Meanwhile here's Carey Smith with his own entry into the flash fiction canon: "Brazil 2014. Final Tickets. Must Sell."
56 min: Selin is booked for clattering clumsily into Milner down the right. The free kick is level with the six-yard box. Gerrard swings it to the near post, where Yarmolenko heads clear with purpose. That was awful.
58 min: What a run by Konoplyanka, who eats up half of the left wing with a burst that burns off Jagielka. He swings the ball into the centre for Zozulya, who connects at high speed but sees his effort deflected out for a corner. The set piece, sent in from the right, hits Garmesh on the shoulder and sails into Hart's hands. "If we're discussing Hemingway-esque six-word short stories surely we can't ignore Mr. Roy's favourite new piece of fiction: 'Lampard and Gerrard can play together'," writes Alex Hanton. "A heartbreaking piece. Recommended by his predecessor I believe."
60 min: Tymoshchuk gifts the ball to Defoe, who scampers off down the left. The striker looks for support, but Cleverley can't keep up, and the centre is engulfed in a sea of blue.
62 min: England are pressing forward a wee bit for the first time in a while. Defoe, Baines and Oxlade-Chamberlain all take turns to slap shots goalwards, but everything's mopped up easily enough. A lot of huff and puff with not much end product so far, but this is at least an improvement on the opening period of the half, which hasn't been great from an English perspective.
63 min: Basingstoke's Tom Cleverley is replaced by Welbeck. "A short story about a possible Ukranian win," offers Robin Hazlehurst: "Vodka celebration. Outside now! Man conversation." Isn't this beat poetry?
66 min: Ukraine seem quite happy to sit back, defend their lead, and see what happens on the break. Husyev isn't far from making something quite dangerous happen down the inside-right channel. "I'm watching a Ukranian stream (don't ask), and the commentator keeps referring to Steven Gerrard as 'our commander'," reports Robert Johnson. "Do you think he's being ironic?" Is he snorting and crying? Can you hear him slapping a thigh? That could be a clue.
68 min: Good work from Johnson down the right, and that's a corner to England. Gerrard, whose last free kick from a not totally dissimilar position was a disgrace to the eyes and all footballing sensibilities, is somehow allowed to take it. It's wasted. Wembley's getting upset!
69 min: Johnson gets pelters for his defensive work, but he always shows up front, and here he cuts inside from the right and fizzes a marvellous low shot towards the bottom left. It's going in, until Pyatov gets a fingertip to it. Adding insult to injury, England don't even get the corner.
70 min: Oxlade-Chamberlain is replaced by Sturridge.
71 min: A bad minute for Rotan. First Lescott is booked for hauling down Zozulya 25 yards out. The free kick, in a fairly central position, ends up at Rotan's feet on the edge of the area. He takes a fresh air swipe. Ukraine manage to recycle the ball, but their period of pressure comes to an end when Rotan needlessly passes the ball out of play. Oh Rotan!
73 min: Milner's been one of England's better players tonight - admittedly not the longest of lists - and he glides a cross from the right that's just too high for the head of Defoe in the middle.
74 min: Bertrand replaces Baines. When play restarts, Milner becomes the third England player to go into the book for pressing his mitt into an opponent's mug. Rakitskly is the victim this time round.
75 min: Ukraine make their first change of the evening, swapping Selin for Shevchuk.
77 min: Defoe has a lash from distance, but it's no good. Wembley is a very tense place now. Meanwhile here's a joke about the name of tonight's referee from Dan Brake: "Hemingway was a bit Cuneyt. Apologies for any spelling mistakes." I had banned this sort of patter on Guardian style grounds regarding naughty swearies, but this counts as highfalutin literary satire rather than Football Banter, so we shouldn't get too much heat from the readers' editor.
80 min: Garmash is booked for cynically hauling back Welbeck as the striker sashays down the inside left. The set piece is 25 yards from goal. Gerrard hits a decent one this time, curled to the far post, where Jagielka challenges. Pyatov is out to punch. Corner - which is a terrible business. England have turned it up a notch here.
81 min: Konoplyanka is a dangerous man. He tears down the left, leaving Johnson in his wake. Luckily for England, they have men back, and more of them than Ukraine have thrown forward. "Poor, this, isn't it?" asks Phil Sawyer. "Sorry, I know that's two words short of a story but, like England tonight, I find myself lacking invention."
82 min: A terrible miss by Welbeck. Gerrard draws a few defenders with a right-to-left run along the face of the Ukraine area. He slips the ball down the wing to Sturridge, who fires a pass into the centre for Welbeck. He's got the ball at his feet, six yards out, but blasts the ball against the left-hand upright and out. He holds his head in his hands, and no wonder. On another day, that'd have pinged off the post and in, but not tonight, and it nevertheless qualifies as a dreadful miss.
84 min: This match has turned wild. Garmash sticks a leg out in the area. Welbeck dives over it. Was there contact? England are sure there was; the ref - standing right in front of the incident - is having none of it. Ukraine sweep up the other end. Konoplyanka is sent clear down the left, but Zozulya can't guide in at speed.
86 min: PENALTY FOR ENGLAND! Welbeck tries to set himself up in the area with a dink over Khacheridi. The ball clanks against the diving defender's arm. The referee points at the spot this time. Lampard will step up, and ...
87 min: GOAL!!! England 1-1 Ukraine. ... smashes an unstoppable penalty past Pyatov. Wembley erupts!
88 min: RED CARD FOR THE ENGLAND CAPTAIN! Gerrard is booked - and he can have no complaints for a crude lunge on Garmesh from behind. Straight through the player, that could have been a red on its own merits. But it's a second yellow, and he's walking anyway.
89 min: Devic replaces Zozulya. Wembley is bouncing at the moment, a mix of relief and righteous annoyance.
90 min: There will be four added minutes of this. The first sees Milner dance down the right, reach the byline, and dink one up into the middle. It's headed clear.
90 min +1: Nazarenko replaces Devic.
90 min +2: They've just shown the Welbeck penalty incident again. It was an outrageous dive. England can have no complaints.
90 min +3: Johnson is booked for a late clip on Shevchuk near the left-hand corner flag.
FULL TIME: England 1-1 Ukraine. Hart deals easily enough with the resulting free kick, and that is that. England will feel some relief here at snatching a draw, but have dropped two points at home in their first big test. That's far from ideal. More worryingly, for vast parts of the match, they were very much second best to unfancied opponents. Still, onwards and upwards. And at least England don't have Scotland's problems.