World Cup qual – England leave it late to down Ukraine
John Terry netted a late winner to give Fabio Capello’s England a 2-1 win over Ukraine at Wembley and maintain their perfect record in World Cup qualifying Group 6.
Peter Crouch, in the starting XI in the absence of injured trio Emile Heskey, Carlton Cole and Darren Bent, put England in the driving seat on 29 minutes with a trademark volley from close range.
Despite their dominance of possession, the hosts failed to make their superiority count and former Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko threatened to make them pay with a 74th minute equaliser.
But with five minutes remaining England skipper Terry pounced to grab all three points and make it five wins out of five during the current campaign.
The win saw Capello’s side maintain their five-point advantage over second-placed Croatia, who enjoyed a 2-0 win over Andorra, while Ukraine slipped to third, eight points adrift of England.
Crouch was handed his first start since Capello took charge of England 13 games ago and he justified his inclusion after 29 minutes, swooping in typical fashion to open the scoring.
The Portsmouth striker swivelled to volley home after Terry had planted a header back into the danger area from a Frank Lampard corner to continue his impressive scoring record at international level – the goal was his 15th in 33 appearances.
Crouch took the plaudits for finding the back of the net, but it was Wayne Rooney’s energetic display that had the home crowd on their feet.
At times, there appeared to be two Rooneys on the Wembley turf, such was the Manchester United’s incredible coverage of the pitch. But he was not just full of running, and he brought gasps from the stands with a lovely overhead kick that looped just over the bar on eight minutes.
Steven Gerrard, playing wide on the left, also went close early on, firing a curling shot from a set piece just wide of Andriy Pyatov’s left-hand upright after a quarter-of-an-hour.
That effort preceded England’s best move of the first-half, a lovely flowing passing attack involving both Gerrard, Rooney and Aaron Lennon. But the Tottenham winger’s eventual cross failed to cause consternation in the Ukraine defence and the move ultimately fizzled out.
Crouch pounced soon after and the irrepressible Rooney went close to doubling the lead on 35 minutes, sending a powerfully struck volley over the bar after having started the move with a wonderful cross-field pass to Lennon.
At the other end, Ukraine had to make do with pot shots from distance during the opening period, skipper Anatoliy Tymoschuk going closest with a swerving effort that bounced just before it reached David James in the England goal on 36 minutes. The Portsmouth keeper was forced into making an unorthodox, if effective, save with his shoulder.
Rooney started the second half as he had spent much of the first – demanding the ball as often as possible and covering as much ground as he could. And his efforts were nearly rewarded four minutes after the restart when a typically cavalier run saw him evade three Ukraine challenges before shooting wide.
David Beckham was introduced just before the hour mark to win his 110th international cap and he gave the visiting defence a scare five minutes later with a free-kick that landed on top of the netting.
With Ukraine offering very little up front, England looked comfortable yet their failure to put the game to bed gave them a scare after the introduction of Shevchenko.
The former Chelsea striker took full advantage of some slack defending from a whipped free-kick into the danger area which bounced against the chest of Glen Johnson and into his path. Shevchenko stabbed home past James to net on his first appearance at Wembley and England hearts sunk.
The visitors were energised by the goal and for several minutes they looked capable of netting a winner – an unlikely scenario for most of the game.
But Terry came to England’s rescue with just five minutes remaining, hooking home after Gerrard had knocked back Beckham’s deep free-kick in a move which almost mirrored that which led to the opener.
Two goals in the first half gave Croatia a 2-0 win over Andorra to retain second place in Group 6.
Croatia opened the game with a series of promising crosses by Darijo Srna and opened the scoring in the 15th minute through Ivan Klasnic‘s precise shot from the edge of the box.
The pace of the game then slowed down with Croatia creating few chances and Andorra rarely venturing past the centre of the pitch until a random cross from Klasnic was slotted in by Eduardo da Silva in the 35th minute.
The entire second half saw Croatia dominant but failing to create any serious opportunities to increase their lead.
In the early kick-off Belarus crushed Kazakhstan 5-1 to retain a slim chance of reaching the playoffs.
Kazakhstan’s Renat Abdulin scored his team’s only goal with the opening score in the 10th minute from a Ruslan Baltiyev’s free kick. Otherwise Belarus were more aggressive in the first half but wasted several chances to score.
Three minutes into the second half, Aleksandr Hleb evened the score after a one on one with the goalkeeper.
Belarus then scored three times within the next 15 minutes with a goal by Ihar Stasevich and two to Timofei Kalachev. Vitali Rodionov scored the final goal in the 88th minute.