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Walker’s first England goal rescues Ukraine draw in Euro qualifier

Kyle Walker spared England’s blushes as the Manchester City defender’s first international goal rescued a 1-1 draw against Ukraine in Saturday’s Euro 2024 qualifier.

Gareth Southgate’s side trailed to Oleksandr Zinchenko’s first half strike in the Polish city of Wroclaw. 

But Walker ensured England maintained their unbeaten Group C record when he netted just before the interval.

No England player had ever featured in as many as Walker’s 77 Three Lions games before finally getting on the scoresheet.

Although England’s run of four successive Group C victories came to an end, they remain on course to qualify for next year’s European Championship.

England sit six points ahead of second placed Ukraine with three group games left and the top two teams guaranteed to qualify.

Ukraine are four points in front of third placed Italy and fourth placed North Macedonia, who meet later on Saturday.

It was far from England’s best performance, but Southgate will see it as another valuable result on the road to Germany.

Injuries to John Stones and Tyrone Mings meant Harry Maguire kept his place despite playing for just 23 minutes for Manchester United this season.

Maguire was solid enough despite his lack of game-time, but Ukraine’s cautious approach meant he was rarely over-worked.

Jordan Henderson was another controversial selection by Southgate after criticism of the midfielder’s move from Liverpool to Saudi side Al-Ettifaq.

There was no sign of protests against Henderson, whose transfer has angered England’s LGBTQ+ fans following his previously strong support for the community.

Jude Bellingham’s blistering beginning to life at Real Madrid didn’t quite translate into an England shirt on this occasion as the midfielder started brightly before fading.

Following a strong start to his first season with Tottenham, James Maddison struggled to make an impact on his second England start before being replaced after 65 minutes.

Walker to the rescue

Ukraine have not been able to play at home since Russia’s invasion of the country in February 2022.

However, there are an estimated 200,000 displaced Ukrainians living in Wroclaw and around 40,000 of them packed into the Tarczynski Arena.

After being penned into their own half in the opening stages, Ukraine snatched the lead against the run of play to the delight of their raucous supporters in the 26th minute.

England had gone five and a half hours without conceding a goal, but they were finally breached by a flowing move that climaxed with Yukhym Konoplya’s cutback to Arsenal left-back Zinchenko, who swept a clinical finish past Jordan Pickford from 12 yards.

For the first time since the World Cup quarter-final defeat against France last year, Southgate’s men were trailing.

At times guilty of over-elaborating as they probed for an equaliser, England’s visible frustration boiled over when Maddison was booked for a needless foul on Illia Zabarnyi.

But Walker settled their nerves in the 41st minute as the right-back ended his long wait for his maiden England goal.

Dropping deep into midfield, Harry Kane was given too much time and space for a glorious long pass that arrowed towards Walker’s run into the area, the defender taking a touch before calmly slotting home from close-range.

Maguire nearly completed England’s comeback immediately after half-time, looping a header just over from Walker’s cross.

Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk beat England’s Daniel Dubois in a heavyweight title fight in Wroclaw recently, but neither country could land the knockout blow this time.

Both sides had second half penalty appeals rejected by VAR, with Saka closest to winning it when his 25-yard blast cannoned back off the bar.

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