The Three Lions ensured that they'll end this international break at the top of Group H by playing out a dire 0-0 draw in Ukraine. The result mattered more than the play, of course, and Ukraine is not an easy place to travel, but if anyone was hoping for a performance to quicken the heart, they were -- apart from a mirage-like opening spell -- sadly disappointed.
The match began in explosive fashion, and indeed might have begun with a penalty for the hosts. Yevhen Konoplyanka worked his way into space on the Ukrainian left and put in a low cross for Roman Zozulya which took a slight deflection before the striker was downed by an onrushing Joe Hart. To the bemusement of the hosts, the referee pointed to the corner flag rather than the spot.
There were chances at both ends of the pitch. Theo Walcott showed off his speed, burning Viacheslav Shevchuk and forcing Andriy Pyatov into a brave and rather painful stop, and Gary Cahill threatened repeatedly on set pieces. Meanwhile, Artem Fedetskyy missed a free header after a sublime cross from Konoplyanka.
But the excitement of the early stages did not continue past the 20 minute mark. It took fifty minutes of nothing football for anything more of note to happen -- Kyle Walker brought down Zozulya just outside the box to set up a close-range free kick which Phil Jagielka (barely) turned wide of Hart's far post. Then, from a corner, Fedetskyy sent a free header bouncing tamely into the ground and then the goalkeeper's midriff.
Walcot did have a half-chance in the dying minutes when Walker seized upon a defensive mistake, but he never looked likely to score. Frank Lampard then nodded a free header wide, missing out on the chance to grab a sure winner on the day of his 100th cap. England scoring, however, would have been a footballing injustice. This was a very poor game, and it deserved to be 0-0.
Which is how it ended.
Ukraine starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Andriy Pyatov; Viacheslav Shevchuk, Olexandr Kucher, Yevhen Khacheridi, Artem Fedetskyy; Taras Stepaneko, Edmar Aparesida; Oleg Gusev (Roman Bezus, 68'), Yevhen Konoplyanka, Andriy Yarmolenko; Roman Zozulya (Yevhen Seleznyov, 90').
England starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Ashley Cole, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Kyle Walker; Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard; James Milner, Jack Wilshere (Ashley Young, 68'), Theo Walcott (Tom Cleverley, 88'); Rickie Lambert.