UEFA U21 Championship Group B
England 0:0 Ukraine
England and Ukraine survive after a goalless but entertaining clash here in Herning, but both now face do-or-die showdowns with the Czechs and Spanish respectively after they failed to find the net in Jutland this evening.
With Spain on four points and the Czechs on three, England on two and the Ukraine with a point know that nothing less than victory will do on Sunday.
With both teams hungry for a win, a fast-paced opening duly arrived and it was the yellow jerseys of the Ukraine, backed by a noisy support from the ranks of Jutland's expat agricultural workers, who bared their teeth first.
Denys Garmash, the attacking midfielder from Dynamo Kyiv who has gained some admiring glances already, won a corner deflected off Phil Jones with a snapshot on the edge of the area in the seventh minute. Soon afterwards the Ukrainians confirmed their attacking desire when Yevhen Konoplyanka let rip with a 20 yard missile which Frank Fielding dove quickly to parry away. The Dnipro midfielder was the chief protagonist, dribbling at speed, switching positions and shooting from distance.
England needed to stand firm as the yellow shirts attacked with alacrity, and some of their stratospheric clearances betrayed their nerves at being on the back foot. Familiar failings were to the fore again for Stuart Pearce's men, who looked unlikely to threaten the Ukrainian goal in the first half hour, ruining a number of moves with yet more hopeful but dispiriting pumps upfield.
But suddenly a spark of hope came in the 33rd minute. Michael Mancienne threaded a pass through the middle to Daniel Sturridge and the Chelsea striker let fly on the half-volley from fully 30 yards out and whacked the crossbar with the goalkeeper flailing.
England finished the half the stronger, with left-flanker Danny Rose obeying Pearce's vocal exhortations to take on Ukraine's pedestrian right-back Bohdan Butko.
Ukraine resumed their dominance after the break, though Daniel Welbeck, under pressure eight minutes into the half, almost snatched the lead from a route one chase chipped wide of goal. Instead of passing through the Ukrainians, England seemed to be seeking the spectacular. Mancienne, still exploring his unfamiliar midfield anchoring role, tried his luck from 30 yards out rather than prolong a promising move on the deck. England were out of ideas in the middle again, and unlike against Spain, failing to make headway on the wings.
Pearce had seen enough, hauling off Rose and the disappointing Jack Rodwell three minutes before the hour mark.
The yellows sought a second wind, and coach Pavlo Yakovenko took the reins and pulled his ball wizard Konoplyanka off in the 65th, his high-octane motor having run out of petrol at last.
Four minutes later Garmash drew a diving save from 20 yards out and striker Roman Zozulya came on for the ineffective Artem Kravets and glanced a header a couple of yards wide soon afterwards.
A nil-nil looked likelier as the clock counted down, until Ukraine got a stroke of luck eight minutes from time. Garmash ran at the England centre-backs and his through-ball caromed off Jones into the path of Zozulya, whose snapshot was blocked by an alert Fielding. Along with the old head on young shoulders that was Phil Jones, the Derby custodian was England's best performer.
England sub Henri Lansbury rifled an effort a yard wide three minutes later at the other end, confirming it was not yet game over. Sturridge aped him in the 86th, before Welbeck's header from a Lansbury corner brought a goalline save.
No more chances emerged and the two nations tripped off knowing they will have no more excuses over 90 minutes on Sunday.
For England, a stout defence provides hope of avoiding defeat once more, but a fragmented outfield with midfield and attack rarely in unison and a confused attacking policy which relies too much on ineffective hit-and-hope balls do not hint at progression.
The Ukrainians by contrast will have to find a plan B after their energetic attacking, however fine it is to behold, ran out of steam in the second half and failed to spring a watertight backline.
England (4-1-2-3) - Frank Fielding, Michael Mancienne (Fabrice Muamba 89'), Ryan Bertrand, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Kyle Walker, Jack Rodwell (Henri Lansbury 58'), Danny Rose (Scott Sinclair 58')
Ukraine (4-2-3-1) - Anton Kanibolotskiy, Bohdan Butko, Yevhen Selin, Yaroslav Rakiskiy, Yevhen Konoplyanka (Andriy Yarmolenko 65'), Oleg Golodyuk, Serhiy Kryvtsov, Maxym Biliy, Volodymyr Chesnakov, Denys Garmash, Artem Kravets (Roman Zozulya 70')
Total shots - Ukraine 10, England 15
Ball possession - Ukraine 52%, England 48%
Cautions - Ukraine 4, England 2
Sunday 2045: England v Czech Republic (Viborg), Spain v Ukraine (Herning)
Group B standings
Spain pld 2 pts 4
Czech Rep pld 2 pts 3
England pld 2 pts 2
Ukraine pld 2 pts 1
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile