Kane on target again as England ease past Ukraine
28 March, 2023, 3:08 am
LONDON (Reuters) -Harry Kane underlined his status as England’s greatest international goalscorer and Bukayo Saka dazzled again in a comfortable 2-0 win over Ukraine to put Gareth Southgate’s team in control of Euro 2024 qualifying Group C on Sunday.
Fresh from scoring his 54th goal in the 2-1 victory over Italy on Thursday, Kane made up for a couple of missed chances to break the stalemate in the 37th minute.
Arsenal youngster Saka, again England’s brightest spark, then doubled the lead before halftime with a sensational curler that left the visitors and their 4,000 fans deflated.
Ukraine had their moments and enjoyed some pressure after the interval but never really looked capable of claiming only a second victory over England in 10 attempts.
The second half was tepid although it was noteworthy for an international debut for Brentford forward Ivan Toney who came on 10 minutes from the end as a substitute for Kane.
The 2022 World Cup quarter-finalists have six points from their opening two games and already look firm favourites to top a group that also contains Malta and North Macedonia.
Ukraine, who came agonisingly close to qualifying for the World Cup but lost a playoff to Wales, will be relieved to have got their toughest fixture out of the way.
There was plenty of sympathy for war-ravaged Ukraine around Wembley Stadium with 1,000 tickets donated to refugees and their sponsor families and the country’s anthem warmly-applauded.
But all sentiment was put to one side once the whistle sounded with England focussed only on building on their first victory in 62 years against Italy on Italian soil.
“To back up the Italy result was important but there is still room to grow,” Southgate, who handed a first start to Leicester City playmaker James Maddison, said.
It took them a while to get going, however, as Ukraine comfortably kept the hosts at bay for most of the first half.
Kane, who was presented with a golden boot beforehand, missed two routine chances, fluffing a close-range volley and then prodding an inviting Maddison delivery over.
But when he got a third chance he made no mistake.
Having passed the ball out to Saka, the captain then ghosted into the area and was picked out by the Arsenal winger’s cross to touch the ball past Ukraine keeper Anatoliy Trubin.
Three minutes later Saka produced a goal of stunning quality, turning on to Jordan Henderson’s pass and curling a shot into the top corner for his eighth England goal.
The 21-year-old has now had a hand in 10 goals in his last 16 games for England in all competitions.
“It is a top-level finish,” Southgate said. “That is the ruthless part he has added to his game in the last 18 months.
“There were times you weren’t sure he was going to finish but now he has that confidence in front of goal.”
Ukraine, who had a couple of half chances early on, showed plenty of energy after the interval but did not have the quality to ruffle and England side in cruise control.
It could have been a bigger margin of victory if substitutes Conor Gallagher and Jack Grealish, left out in favour of Maddison, had converted chances although by that time thousands of England fans had decided to get to the station early.
Ukraine’s fans stayed until the end, however, and gave their team a rousing ovation in a corner that was a sea of yellow and blue. Their next game will be against North Macedonia in June while England are away in Malta next.