They know a bit about hollow dreams in Dnipropetrovsk, where the tenement blocks should be condemned before they collapse on to the bricked-up Ladas on the pavements and where fame has come through the infamy of the Dnipropetrovsk Maniacs, two teenagers who turned from the drudgery to butchery when they killed 21 people in the space of 32 days a few years ago. The failure of the Communist dream is laid bare in this place, and here was a football match where England's dreams of world domination were put into sharper focus too.
There are mitigating circumstances to a first competitive defeat under Fabio Capello. The flares which rained on Robert Green's goal in the first two minutes may have been in his mind as he advanced for the challenge which was to make him the first England goalkeeper to be dismissed. He was also the first England player to be shown a red card since Wayne Rooney in Gelsenkirchen three years ago. One of the flares set fire to the sack which a fire officer tried to use to collect it.
"I don't understand. I thought they checked people coming into the ground," Capello said, with good reason, after the match.
Taken with the monkey noises directed at Carlton Cole towards the end – three English players told him they had clearly heard them, though he was too absorbed to do so – there is much evidence that Ukraine, hosts with Poland of Euro 2012, deserve to become the first country since Colombia in 1986 to be stripped of the right to host a championship.
However, flares or no flares, there should be no smokescreen around the questions raised by this defeat. The match-defining moment arrived 14 minutes in, when Rio Ferdinand misjudged the flight of a high ball in the direction of Artem Milevskyi and found himself a yard behind the striker as he raced into the area. Green might have reached that ball as Milevskyi advanced to his right, rather than bring him down, but there was a brief, poetic justice in the Slovenian referee's initial reaction, which was to dismiss the Manchester United defender. He was the prime offender.
The kindest interpretation is that Ferdinand, playing only his third game for England since they beat Belarus a year ago, is short of match time but it was not his only misjudgement. He twice gave Ukraine the scent again in the second half, dithering with a ball sent over from the right by Oleksiy Gay, then exposing David James when he allowed Yaroslav Rakitsky to slide a ball through for the substitute Andriy Yarmolenko. James blocked well.
Take this with the error with which Ferdinand handed Holland a goal in Amsterdam in August and the goal he gave Manchester City at Old Trafford recently and all does not look well. His face told the story as he trooped off at the end, barely seeing the hand Capello thrust towards him and ignoring the travelling fans.
Capello put a brave face on things afterwards but the anger he expressed from the touchline told a different story. Before the match even started, there were questions about David Beckham's future. For a second time in three games he was not on the bench. Capello might be calling time.
If he was looking for more in midfield from those with fewer years behind them, he was to be disappointed. Green's dismissal set the course of a hard night – Aaron Lennon was sacrificed to make way for James – but Michael Carrick did not display the pace or range of passing which England are seeking. Steven Gerrard was anaemic before yet another groin strain saw him replaced by James Milner in the second half.
Rooney was the man apart again – chasing back from box to box to cover Glen Johnson's runs – though he could not make up for a bad night for the defence. After a reprieve from Green's error – Andriy Shevchenko took the 15th-minute penalty but it hit the outside of James' left-hand post – Ashley Cole handed Ukraine the goal which will probably send them into a play-off at Croatia's expense. He was easily dispossessed and after Johnson seemed to have made amends with a firm challenge, the ball squirmed out to Sergei Nazarenko. His fierce effort took a heavy deflection off Cole's head and flew high past James.
Milevskyi, causing Ferdinand serious problems, latched on to a loose ball and thumped a 20-yard effort against the bar, and it was down to Shevchenko – whose performance was painful to behold, a world away from the energy he showed in Ukraine's 2-1 defeat at Wembley – that the game did not slip out of their sight. After catching Johnson out of position, he managed to fire one shot so wide it vanished for a throw in on the opposite side of the pitch. He managed to leave Ashley Cole on his backside as the half reached its end but could not use the ball. This was why Carlo Ancelotti at Milan, as well as at Chelsea, could find no use for the striker.
England generally threatened when Johnson did. He beat the left-back Oleksandr Kucher twice but the final ball was missing. There was something desperate about the sight of Emile Heskey – desperately ineffectual again – being replaced by Carlton Cole, who headed Frank Lampard's corner over in the dying seconds. Cole offered little more than Heskey, and Capello, from the sidelines, urged more energy from him.
A night of flares, maybe. But it was also one of many questions.
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
Man of the match: Milevskiy
Match rating: 6/10
Man for man: England
Robert Green 4/10
Under pressure for the No 1 jersey from a fit-again David James, Green did his case no favours. Would have been more sensible to risk an early goal than concede a penalty and leave his team-mates a man short for 75 minutes.
Glen Johnson 6/10
Another Jekyll and Hyde performance. Dr Jekyll attacked excitingly but Mr Hyde was often caught out defensively, notably by the ball in behind him. Unconvincing tackle left the ball loose for Nazarenko to score the winning goal.
Rio Ferdinand 5/10
After his blunder against Manchester City that cost a goal, he was at fault for the penalty here, failing to stop Milevskiy breaking past him. Are his injury problems beginning to have an effect? A good understudy is needed.
John Terry 7/10
The captain did better than his fellow defenders in encounters with old club-mate Shevchenko, but was hardly helped by Ferdinand's erratic form alongside him. Strong in defence, no chances this time from any set-pieces.
Ashley Cole 6/10
Struggled to continue the outstanding form he has shown this season for club and country. Failed to provide much of an outlet down the left and was once outmuscled embarrassingly by Shevchenko.
Frank Lampard 7/10
Oddly, has been scoring plenty of goals for England in his slightly more defensive role but none for Chelsea at the attacking point of the diamond. Unlucky not to get one in either half when twice played in by Rooney.
Michael Carrick 6/10
An interesting choice if Capello really was sending out his first-choice XI, as he said. Preferred this time to Gareth Barry, who hasn't been at his best, but Carrick was no more effective than the City man has been in his last internationals.
Aaron Lennon 6/10
Star man last time out against Croatia and must have been bitterly disappointed to have been sacrificed following Green's red card. Had time for one run and cross and not much more. Deserves another start on Wednesday against Belarus.
Wayne Rooney 8/10
Forced to play wide on the right once England went down to 10 men, then on the left. The Manchester United man worked harder than anyone in attack and even defence. The odd touch of class too, in particular a reverse pass to put Lampard in before half-time.
Steven Gerrard 5/10
The Liverpool captain also had to change his role slightly after Green's dismissal, coming inside from the left flank. Had little chance to make an impact and made way for Milner at half-time.
Emile Heskey 5/10
The Aston Villa striker appears to be the one man for whom Capello makes separate rules: he doesn't need to be playing for his club or scoring for anybody. Didn't win as many headers as usual or have any chances to improve scoring record.
David James (for Green, 14) An unexpected bonus following Green's lapse. Made two fine saves and if he starts at Wembley on Wednesday it is safe to assume he is the goalkeeper Capello has pencilled in for South Africa. 7
James Milner (for Gerrard, h-t) With so much competition for the wide places, his ability to play on either flank is a bonus; delivered good crosses from each side. 6
Carlton Cole (for Heskey, 72) Must have been encouraged by being picked ahead of Peter Crouch for an outing. Did well to give Rooney an opportunity near the end. 6
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