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World Cup Qualifying Preview: England – Ukraine

Kick-Off: Wednesday 1 April, 20:00 GMT
Wembley, London.

Under Italian tactician Fabio Capello, England have marched to their greatest start to any World Cup qualifying campaign, having accumulated maximum points on all four of their previous outings. They have conceded just thrice, and have found the net on no less than 14 occasions.

Likewise, Ukraine have embarked on an undefeated run, too. They have played one game less than the English, but should they defeat the Three Lions, then they can close the gap on them to just two points.

Teething Troubles

Compared to England, who are the joint oldest national football side in the world having competed in their first showdown in 1872, Ukraine are still in the troublesome teen years having only been formed in the early 1990s, following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

As such, there have been few meetings between the two teams. The first was in 2000, at Wembley, where goals from Robbie Fowler and Tony Adams ensured a 2-0 victory that was to be the last ever international outing for legendary and talismanic No. 9, Alan Shearer.

The other, in 2004, witnessed a debut from a wide-eyed, eager, and bubbling diminutive winger Shaun Wright-Phillips. England again triumphed, this time by a 3-0 margin.

Passing The Pubescent Years

Ukraine are now a far more formidable outfit than they were in both 2000 and 2004. They contain a host of experienced stars who are household names across the continent.

All good sides, whether on a domestic scene or an international one, have a core spine. The Zhovto-Blakytni are developing just this.

With Dmytro Chygrynskiy, Anatoliy Tymoschuk, and Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine have one of the rising stars of European football who is the subject of transfer speculation from top sides in the Premier League and La Primera, a midfield enforcer about to make his mark for one of the most historical sides in Europe - FC Bayern, and an established Serie A striker who will be enthusiastic to re-exert himself at the top-level after his return to AC Milan has been considerably underwhelming.

A more detailed discourse on this trident, together with the positional battles they will face when up against Capello's clique, can be found here.

Andriy Voronin, too, is re-finding his goal-scoring touch for Hertha Berlin after struggling to establish himself in Rafael Benitez's first team plans at Liverpool, and has even helped propel Hertha Berlin up the Bundesliga table due to his strike-rate that has bettered 1:2 (11 in 20 games).

Middle-Aged (For A Footballer) And Injured

During England's last outing - their 4-0 romp over Slovakia - a bizarre set of injuries all struck the same position. Three of the nation's strikers all hobbled off the pitch as Emile Heskey was substituted with Carlton Cole, who only lasted 20 minutes before he himself was brought off and replaced with Peter Crouch, only for the beanpole targetman to also suffer injury, so Michael Carrick took the place of the Portsmouth ace.

Tottenham Hotspur hotshot Darren Bent was duly called-up to take the place of crocked duo Heskey and Cole, but the White Hart Lane star was seen limping off of England's training ground today, and so Gabriel Agbonlahor has been brought in, and will likely start Wednesday evening's clash on the bench, as Capello has already earmarked Crouch to partner Wayne Rooney in attack.

There is still no room at the inn for Michael Owen, but Capello has insisted the door shall always remain open for the man dubbed the 'Northern crock'.

FORM GUIDE

England

Mar 28 v Slovakia (H) WON 4-0 (FR)
Feb 11 v Spain (A) LOST 2-0 (FR)
Nov 19 v Germany (A) WON 2-1 (FR)
Oct 15 v Belarus (A) WON 3-1 (WCQ)
Oct 11 v Kazakhstan (H) WON 5-1 (WCQ)

Ukraine


Feb 11 v Serbia (A) WON 1-0 (CT)
Feb 10 v Slovakia (A) WON 3-2 (CT)
Sept 10 v Kazakhstan (A) WON 3-1 (WCQ)
Sept 06 v Belarus (H) WON 1-0 (WCQ)
Aug 20 v Poland (H) WON 1-0 (FR)


TEAM NEWS

England


Peter Crouch is a definite starter as confirmed by Fabio Capello in his pre-match press conference today.

Carlton Cole, Emile Heskey, and Ledley King have all been withdrawn due to injury.

Rio Ferdinand has been deemed fit to partner John Terry.

Gabriel Agbonlahor has been called-up to replace Darren Bent.

Squad:

James, Green, Foster, Ferdinand, A Cole, Terry, King, Upson, Johnson, Lescott, Jagielka, Baines, Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Barry, Wright-Phillips, Downing, Carrick, Lennon, Heskey, Rooney, Crouch, Bent, Agbonlahor.

Possible Starting XI – (4-4-2):
James, Cole, Ferdinand, Terry, Johnson, Gerrard, Lampard, Barry, Lennon, Rooney, Crouch.


Ukraine

Artem Kravets, who could have been in line to make his debut following a string of strong performances both domestically, and in the UEFA Cup for Dynamo Kyiv, has been ruled out.

Squad:

Pyatov, Khudzhamov, Bogush, Goryainov, Mandzyuk, Mykhalik, Rusol, Shevchuk, Chygrynskiy, Kucher, Yarmash, Aliyev, Kravchenko, Valyayev, Slyusar, Gai, Levchenko, Kalynychenko, Nazarenko, Rotan, Tymoshchuk, Voronin, Gomenyuk, Shevchenko, Seleznov, Devich, Kravets, Milevsky.

Possible Starting XI – (4-4-2):
Pyatov, Chygrynskiy, Shevchuk, Yarmash, Mykhalik, Levchenko, Kalynychenko, Tymoschuk, Aliyev, Voronin, Shevchenko.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England

The movement and fluent understanding of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard was sound against the Slovaks. If Ukraine are to halt the Liverpudlian pair in their tracks, then Anotoliy Tymoschuk will have to be in exemplary shielding and anchoring form.

Ukraine

Andriy Voronin
, the Hertha Berlin hotshot, on loan from Liverpool, may be out to prove a point against English opposition while the world's cameras were watching. Arsenal fans, too, may remember Olexandr Aliyev not only for his silky skills on the wing, but also for his hilarious diving antics.

PREDICTION

Under Capello, in competitive matches, England look not only hard to beat, but emphatic up front. Considering the Lions will also be coming off the back of a convincing 4-0 win over Slovakia they will carry the momentum forward.

By no means will Ukraine roll over as easily as the Slovaks, but expect England to notch up another win and exert themselves as the pacesetters of Group Six.

England 3-1 Ukraine

Alan Dawson, Goal.com