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Ukraine may come to rue a missed opportunity

If Ukraine do not make it to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil then I am afraid they only have themselves to blame, the England side that Mykhaylo Fomenko’s men faced tonight were there for the taking yet Ukraine didn’t make best use of their obvious advantage down the left hand side.

Roy Hodgson will be delighted with the point his side earned in Ukraine this evening and qualification for this summer's World Cup is now fully in England's own hands.

Roy Hodgson will be delighted with the point his side earned in Ukraine this evening and qualification for this summer’s World Cup is now fully in England’s own hands.

You got the sense that Ukraine were somewhat overawed by the sentiment which goes with the English national team, the names of Gerrard, Lampard and Ashley Cole seemed to have an effect on the Ukraine side to the degree that the home side saw a draw as just as good a result as England did which is what made for such an uninspiring watch for both supporters and neutrals alike.

The best player on the pitch tonight was Ukraine’s left winger, Yevhen Konoplyanka. The Dnipro midfielder was a threat all night long with his pace, low centre of gravity and ability to change direction at pace all contributing to making Kyle Walker’s evening a real misery. However Ukraine didn’t get the ball to Konoplyanka on the floor often enough, the home side were too cautious, they preferred to play a lofted pass into the direction of Konoplyanka  which played right into Walker’s hands as he had more than enough pace to reach the lofted pass first and clear the potential danger.

Ukraine would have been far better served looking to play Konoplyanka into his feet as they tried to do with Andriy Yarmolenko on the right hand side but Edmar and Stepanenko continued to persevere with the lofted pass approach with proved largely fruitless. In Theo Walcott, Kyle Walker received very little support defensively throughout the match, even more so after Walcott picked up an injury midway through the second half. This coupled with the fact Walker drifted into the middle of the defensive line all too often meant that Konoplyanka had acres of space to run into down the left hand side yet he was not found as often as he should have been.

With the stakes so high you cannot blame England for heading to Kiev with the game plan of trying to secure a draw and that is exactly what England did. Roy Hodgson’s men were solid at the back with Gary Cahill marshalling the backline confidently and Steven Gerrard capably covering the breadth of the space just in front of England’s defensive four. However there was very little control in amongst the middle of midfield with Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere struggling to keep possession for the majority of the time the pairing were on the pitch. Ukraine had much more control which is why their failure to really push for a positive result will be all the more frustrating.

England now have qualification for this summer’s showpiece event more than in their own hands with only two games remaining in the qualification process with Montenegro and Poland still to visit Wembley and Roy Hodgson’s side head into those fixtures currently top of Group H. Ukraine however will have to be content with a spot in the play-off round should they secure 2nd place in Group H or hope England drop points in their remaining two matches yet it really shouldn’t be that way.

If Ukraine had looked to make their possession in the middle of the field count by using their most potent weapon then they would have had a far greater chance of securing all three points tonight. It seems obvious to an onlooker that if you have an obvious advantage over an opponent in one particular area of the pitch then you should keep looking to that area until the opposition are forced to make a change which nullifies the aforementioned threat. England at no point were tested consistently enough to be forced to make a change on their right hand side until injury forced Theo Walcott out of the game.

This illustrates how Konoplyanka was given room to run on the left hand side, we can see how Walcott only tracked back a certain distance which coupled with Walker's tendency to drift slightly inside left a sizable gap for Konoplyanka to run into when he was on the ball. This then forced Steven Gerrard to track back into his own penalty area in order to provide even more of a defensive aid for Walker. If Ukraine could have looked to exploit this area with a greater regularity then England would have been in real trouble.

This illustrates how Konoplyanka was given room to run on the left hand side, we can see how Walcott only tracked back a certain distance which coupled with Walker’s tendency to drift slightly inside left a sizable gap for Konoplyanka to run into when he was on the ball. This then forced Steven Gerrard to track back into his own penalty area in order to provide even more of a defensive aid for Walker. If Ukraine could have looked to exploit this area with a greater regularity then England would have been in real trouble.

With the quality Ukraine have in their forward line it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of belief for them to still make it to the World Cup through the play-off round however they will have made things more difficult for themselves when you consider the fantastic opportunity they had to defeat England in Kiev this evening however their unwillingness to bring Konoplyanka into play more often may well have cost Ukraine dearly with England now favourites to secure an automatic spot in the 2014 World Cup.Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

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