Gareth Southgate has focused on England’s big moment and valuable learning experience after admitting his side did not “perform well” in attack in their Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine.
Having won their first four Group C matches en route to the next summer’s tournament in Germany, they failed to win a European Championship qualifier for just the second time in 23 attempts on Saturday.
Ukraine, playing away due to the ongoing Russian invasion of their homeland, took the lead through captain Alexander Zinchenko to the delight of the partisan crowd in Wroclaw, Poland.
England leveled before the break thanks to Kyle Walker’s first international goal in his 77th cap, but Southgate’s side were unable to find a winner as they struggled for fluidity and attacking edge.
“The reality is we’re not going to win every game by fours and sevens like we did in this qualifying campaign,” the England manager said after Saturday’s 1-1 draw.
“It was a really good test – away from home, a very passionate atmosphere, quite a few changes from the last game.
“For people like Marc Guey, for example, this is his first experience of playing against England, which he came through very strongly.
“So sometimes, especially in attacking play, it doesn’t quite fit. We know that the patterns we’ve been working on throughout the week are what we always do, so we don’t approach the game differently.
“We tried to freshen things up to give them a different challenge, but today our forward play didn’t allow for a goal and Bukayo’s shot on the crossbar was probably not at the level it was in our previous games.”
— Harry Kane (@HKane) September 9, 2023
Bukayo Saki’s strike, clipped onto the crossbar by Ukraine goalkeeper Georgiy Buschan, was the closest England came to a win on a night when they were often passive in possession and toothless in attack.
“I think what I liked was the control we had over the game when you get into the intense atmosphere that it was,” Southgate said in the bowels of the Tarczynski Arena.
“I thought we played very composure right up until the final third and then I think by the time we scored we had over 70 per cent possession but it was our first shot on target.
“Obviously a lot of our offensive play wasn’t at the level we were hoping for. But I thought, given the circumstances and the importance of this moment in terms of qualifying and coming from behind, when the crowd is full and the opponent has something to hold on to.
“This is a very important moment for us and now we have played the top two teams away from home and earned four points from these two games.”
Despite the disappointing draw, the question still remains of when, not if, England will qualify for the Euros.
Southgate’s men will now turn their attention to a friendly against old foes Scotland on Tuesday when Ukraine travel to Italy for a key clash in the battle for qualification.
Head coach of the Ukrainian national team Sergei Rebrov said: “The atmosphere was really great – simply amazing. Many thanks to our fans. I thanked my players for their performance, especially on defense.
“It is very difficult to stop good attacking players like England, but we have done it on many occasions. This is a satisfactory result – another step towards reaching the finals.”