Gareth Southgate Will Be Pleased, But England Didn't Dazzle Against Ukraine

A workmanlike display from the Three Lions
18:56, 26 Mar 2023

England’s 2-0 win over Ukraine on Sunday in their second Euro 2024 qualifier will not live long in the memory. Beyond the ticket-holders at fairly quiet Wembley and the players, the cultural footprint of this staid contest will be minuscule. After the unwanted drama of the second half against Italy in their Group C opener, perhaps that is exactly what manager Gareth Southgate was looking for. But for those watching, there was nothing to take away from this match apart from the three points.

36 minutes into the first half, Ukraine caretaker manager Ruslan Rotan would have been largely pleased with what he’d seen. A Harry Kane air-shot was abut the sum total of England’s attacking endeavours. There had been half-moments, like a Ben Chilwell cross that went nowhere or a James Maddison free kick which drew some “oohs” and “aahs” until it found Kane offside. But until the 37th minute, the fact Maddison was finally making his full England debut was the most remarkable aspect of this fixture.


Then freshly-minted record-scorer Kane finally got the game underway in earnest. A pinpoint cross from Saka saw the Spurs man swing at the ball, this time making enough of a connection to send it past Anatoliy Trubin.

The Arsenal winger was not content with merely assisting a goal and just three minutes later he conjured a moment of superior brilliance. Collecting a pass from Jordan Henderson on the right flank, Saka ghosted past his man to the edge of the box. Unleashing a peach of a curled finish, Trubin didn’t stand a chance of keeping it out. Suddenly, England had gone from 0-0 and flagging to 2-0 and thriving.

The box office end to the first half was stifled by the 15 minute break. England played better at the start of the second half than they had at the start of the first, but there was little adventure in their dominance. The stakes felt low and Wembley, which had roared along even the quieter passages of the first half, was pin-drop quiet for much of the second. 

But there were still plenty of positives to take from this victory for England, even if it bordered on the sterile at times. Maddison shone on a first Three Lions start he should have been awarded a long time ago. Southgate is suspicious of creative types but he has to give the Leicester City man credit here. It was also a fine afternoon’s work for Chilwell, restored to the England lineup for the first time since November 2021.

The main pleasure for Southgate will be a hassle-free three points. After the nervous exertions of the second half in Naples, a victory without leaving second gear will thrill the England manager if not the subdued Wembley crowd. England will have harder games than this but sometimes it pays to have a straightforward afternoon.

euro 2024 qualifier betting via betfred*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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