Gareth Southgate focused on England’s important point and a valuable learning experience after admitting his side did not “quite click” in attack in the Euro 2024 qualifying draw against Ukraine.
Having won their first four Group C matches on the road to next summer’s tournament in Germany, Saturday saw them fail to win a European Championship qualifier for just the second time in 23 attempts.
Ukraine, playing on the road due to the ongoing Russian invasion in their homeland, took the lead through skipper Oleksandr Zinchenko to the delight of the partisan crowd in Wroclaw, Poland.
England levelled before half-time through Kyle Walker’s first international goal on his 77th appearance for the national team, but Southgate’s side could not find a winner as they struggled for attacking fluidity and a cutting edge.
“The reality is we’re not going to win every game by fours and sevens as we’ve done in this qualifying campaign,” the England boss said after Saturday’s 1-1 draw.
“That was a really good test – away from home, very passionate atmosphere, quite a few changes forced from the last game.
“For people like Marc Guehi, for instance, his first experience of the game like that with England, which he came through really strongly.
“So, sometimes, especially with attacking play, it doesn’t quite click. We know that the patterns that we worked during the week are what we always do, so it’s not that we approach the game in a different way.
“We tried to refresh things to give them a different sort of problem but today our forward play bar the goal and probably Bukayo’s effort that hit the bar wasn’t at the level that it has been in our previous games.”
— Harry Kane (@HKane) September 9, 2023
The Bukayo Saka attempt that was tipped onto the bar by Ukraine goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan was the closest England came to a winner on a night where they were often passive in possession and toothless in attack.
“I think what I liked was the control of the game that we had when you come into an intense atmosphere like there was,” Southgate said in the bowels of the Tarczynski Arena.
“I thought we played with real composure up until the final third and then I think by the time we scored the goal we’d had over 70 per cent of the ball but that was our first attempt on target.
“So clearly, most of our attacking play wasn’t at the level that we would have hoped it to be. But I thought given the circumstances and the importance of the point in terms of qualification and coming from behind when the crowd are full and the opposition have something to hang on to.
“It’s a very important point for us and we’ve now played the two best ranked teams away from home and we’ve got four points from those two games.”
Despite the frustrating draw, it still remains a case of when rather than if England qualify for the Euros.
Southgate’s men now turn their attention to their friendly away to old foes Scotland on Tuesday, when Ukraine travel to Italy for a key clash in the fight for qualification.
Ukraine head coach Sergey Rebrov said: “The atmosphere was really great – simply amazing. A big thank you to our fans. I thanked my players for their performance, especially in defence.
“It is very difficult to stop such good attacking players as England have, but we did it on many occasions. This is a satisfactory result – another step towards reaching the finals.”