Donetsk: Ukraine Vs England
The overnight train to Donetsk failed to produce any falling bears from the top bunk. However, there was a bit of a buzz on the train following the excitement of the Sweden game. A draw against Ukraine puts us through. If we better France’s result by a goal or more we go through top of the group and avoid facing Spain & probable elimination. We arrived in Donetsk a day before the game this time giving us a bit of time to relax on match day.
The crunch clash of Group D was preceded by the equally important ‘Fans Friendly’ match between the England and Ukrainian supports teams. The match was played at the Shaktar training ground located next to Shaktar’s old stadium. The game had been arranged with the Ukrainian state government and there was a good deal of interest with plenty of people and TV camera crews at the ready. The FA had contributed to the game by providing goody bags to be given to the Ukrainian players after the match.
The start of the game was marred with controversy as the manager of the England team had agreed for the players to wear ‘Free Julia’ [Tymoshenko] T-shirts for the starting lineup and pictures. This didnt go down well with either the organisers, or the FA who had to remove any official association with the game in the view of being a-political. Whether a just cause or not, where possible, football should be aside from all politics. The news actually made the papers back home and caused a bit of a stir – a shame when the idea of the ‘Fans Friendly’ initiative is all about building bridges between fans and associations, making international friends and enjoying football.
The game itself was also a disappointment from an England point of view, a strong and well organisaed Ukrainian team outpassing their opponents across the pitch. On a personal level, the game was even worse – being dropped from the starting lineup, (due to late arrival after being given incorrect information about the meeting point) my frustration was taken with me onto the pitch when being an early first halp sub. After a good season wth my club and confidence my fitness was better than the majority of the 30 somethings on the pitch, my pressing of the ball (aka chasing down the ball with a red mist over my eyes) lead me to twist my knee and feel that excruciating pain that I know only too well from tearing my cruciate ligament five years preivous. This time it was the left – note to self – never wear blades on plastic pitches. It takes a little while to sink in. At first its the disappointment of missing the game, then the realistation that I’ve it’s going to be a pain in the arse gettting to the match later on, followed finially by the misery and depression of missing the start of the new season and the probability that I’ll need another operation an might not be playing again for another 18 months. Bollox. Short term solution to problem: get drunk, (massively drunk) as this will stop the pain in my knee and divert attention to the final group game
The match with Ukraine itself was a cagey encounter. England have never been good at ‘holding on’ for a result. Knowing they only needed a draw I think prohibits the team as we are not technically astute enough to ‘play for a draw’. The Premiership is all about high intensity, high pressure, go for the win / outscore the other team. As such, England looked nervous in front of the partisan home crowd and in all honesty were lucky to come away with the required result after Ukraine were wrongly disallowed a goal which looked to have crossed the line.
The performance though is enough to get the required result so from that point of view England have done a profession job of negotiating the group stages, even if the performances haven’t exactly set the tournament alight. We will be back on the night train to Kiev safe in the knowledge there would be a buzz about the team and probably an influx of fans from home flying out for the quarter finals.