Gerrard braced for incredibly tough fixture…
England captain Steven Gerrard says he and his team-mates are expecting a flying start from Ukraine when the teams clash in Tuesday’s pivotal World Cup qualifier in Kiev.
While England are seeking a win that would send them three points clear at the top of European qualifying Group H with two games to play, Ukraine also know that victory would catapult them to the top of the pool.
The sides have met twice in the last 15 months, with England winning 1-0 in a group-stage match in Donetsk at Euro 2012 before snatching a late 1-1 draw at Wembley last September.
“Having watched quite a bit of Ukraine and played against them a couple of times, I think they won’t change,” Gerrard told journalists on the eve of the game.
“They put a lot of energy into the first half an hour of every game they play. They press high and use a lot of energy up, so I’m sure it’ll be the same tomorrow (Tuesday) night.
“It’s important we defend well in the early stages and I think the longer the game goes on, the better chance we’ve got of getting the win.”
Gerrard highlighted wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka as Ukraine’s danger men and said the configuration of Mykhaylo Fomenko’s side gave them no option but to take the game to England.
“They’ve got exciting players on the wings, who are very dangerous,” said the Liverpool midfielder.
“When you play with players out wide like that, you’ve got to take the game to the opposition.
“They’re not really set up to play defensive, so we know they’re going to play an offensive game, which tell us that we need to defend well and hurt them when we regain the ball.”
Gerrard believes that a strong start will have the added bonus of enabling the visitors to quieten the crowd at the Olympic Stadium, which was the scene of England’s penalty shootout loss to Italy in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals.
“If you start sloppy and you don’t focus and you don’t concentrate, you make mistakes and play into their hands, of course the crowd’s going to get up and make a lot of noise and it becomes even more difficult,” he said.
“But if you can be solid, make very little mistakes and try and silence them, it has the reverse effect, because they start getting on Ukraine’s backs and it puts even more pressure on them.”
England manager Roy Hodgson has confirmed that midfielder Frank Lampard will win his 100th cap as a starting player and says he will keep the same team from Friday’s 4-0 win over Moldova, minus the suspended Danny Welbeck.
Gerrard, who has already played 104 times for his country, says Tuesday’s game also represents an opportunity for the less experienced members of the squad to make a mark.
Citing his performance as a 21-year-old in England’s 5-1 win over Germany in Munich in World Cup qualifying in September 2001, he said: “Germany away for me was maybe similar to the position they’re in now.
“Very young age with little experience and you’re away from home in a big qualifier. I managed to get a goal that night and it certainly propelled me on the international level.”
Hodgson has also awarded a 100th cap to Ashley Cole during his 16-month tenure as manager and he lauded his trio of centurions for their commitment to the England cause.
“For me personally, it’s been a god-send,” he said.
“Perhaps most importantly, it gives the lie to the fact that the England team doesn’t matter to players and the Champions League has taken over once and for all and the players are only interested in getting into the Champions League and getting a bigger contract and earning more money.
“They don’t need an extra England cap and yet I know there will be no prouder or more willing players tomorrow night than those three.”