History is on the side of Hodgson's bright young things
On their only previous visit to Moldova, in September 1996, England began a new World Cup campaign with a comfortable victory, then returned home to record an important win over more testing opposition in Poland. Once again they are in a group containing unglamorous eastern European opposition and this time it is Ukraine rather than the Poles, the co-hosts of Euro 2012, who bar the way at Wembley on Tuesday.
Sixteen years ago, as usually happens after a major tournament, one or two of the old guard were being eased out and a young shaver called David Beckham was leader of the bright young men hungry to replace them.
Last summer's European Championship having been less successful than Terry Venables' home campaign, the call has been for a quicker turnover, but after praising senior lieutenants like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard a week ago, Roy Hodgson saw them justify his faith on Friday night in Chisinau. Now he is in turn talking up the younger generation who should still have a significant part to play over the course of the remaining nine qualifying games.
"Very pleased with the young ones," he said, with reference to his starters Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tom Cleverley, and the second-half substitutes Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck.
"I think it's nice to know with so many players absent, players that are experienced, who really would have been key members of our squad, it was fantastic that everyone stepped up to the plate," he added. "And the senior players are still playing with the same aplomb they did during the Euros. But it's nice to see we've got a few new faces coming on to the scene and challenging for places."
Oxlade-Chamberlain also learnt that at this level it is important not to drift out of the game as he did at the start of the second half. "I thought Alex was very good first half," Hodgson said. "But we made it clear to him we were going to take him off after 60 minutes, so I think he forgot to play in the 15 minutes of the second half. That will be an interesting lesson for him as well. Especially when I tell him." Which he apparently did with some force.
Whether the teenager pays with his place on Tuesday is something to be decided over the next 48 hours, for as Ukraine demonstrated in their unlucky 1-0 defeat by England at the Euros, they will be more than a class above Friday's feeble opposition. As Gerrard said: "With all due respect to Moldova, Tuesday is going to be a much bigger test for us. Ukraine showed at the Euros that they're a good team. If you stand off them they can play a bit. But we're going to have support behind us and we want six points from this week, so if we perform and improve a bit we can get that."
England's coaching staff, who spent yesterday studying videos of Ukraine, will have come across many familiar faces – 10 of the team that started against them in Kiev are in the squad. There will be no Andriy Shevchenko, whose swansong that game proved to be when he came on as substitute for the last 20 minutes. He announced his international retirement during the summer after scoring 48 goals in 111 games and intends going into politics.
Ranked 39 in the world, Ukraine declined to play on Friday while England were beating Moldova and Poland were drawing 2-2 away to Montenegro in the other group match. The strategy of the wily old coach and national hero Oleg Blokhin when the fixture schedule was drawn up was to play the key home games against England and Poland in a year's time, thus finishing with three home matches and then a visit to San Marino. "The qualifying group minnows always create plenty of problems for us," he said. "If we fail to obtain a 100 per cent record in the matches with them, it will be very hard to finish top."
Goalkeepers Dykan (Spartak Moscow), Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Koval (Dynamo Kiev).
Defenders Shevchuk, Kucher, Rakytskiy (Shakhtar Donetsk), Mykhalyk, Khacheridi (both Dynamo Kiev), Mandzyuk (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Butko (FC Illichivets Mariupol), Selin (Vorskla Poltava).
Midfielders Gusev, Garmash, Yarmolenko (all Dynamo Kiev), Konoplianka, Rotan (both Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Nazarenko (SC Tavriya Simferopol), Stepanenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Tymoschuk (Bayern Munich).
Forwards Zozulya (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Bezus (Vorskla Poltava), Devic (Shakhtar Donetsk).
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