Last updated March 26th, 2023
The Three Lions will be back in action on home soil for the first time since the 2022 World Cup. Gareth Southgate’s England will host Ukraine at Wembley Stadium on Sunday (5pm BST; TV: Live on Channel 4), where they will be hoping to make it two wins from two games following their quarter-final defeat to France.
This will be just the second time that the Three Lions have stepped on the pitch since that bitterly disappointing defeat to the French in Qatar. In a game where they were far from outplayed, it was a matter of fine margins for Southgate’s men, who ultimately could not come up with the goods when it mattered most.
In Qatar, there were high points for the English. They finally started to exert themselves offensively, producing against Iran, Wales and Senegal, scoring a total of 12 goals in those three games. There were very clear questions over England’s ability to hurt teams and find that extra gear in the final third, so such performances were very pleasing. The Three Lions also enjoyed themselves offensively away against the Italians in Euro 2024 qualifying on Thursday, scoring twice, and attacking with menace on several other occasions. Can they now carry that on back at Wembley?
Thanks to their play-off loss to the Welsh, who edged ahead by a goal to nil in the World Cup play-off back in June of 2022, the Ukrainians were not in Qatar. Towards the back end of 2022, they were involved in the UEFA Nations League, which allowed them game-time to experiment and attempt to build a platform for future success, though they produced a mixed bag. Whether they can really cut it against a side that reached the World Cup quarters and only narrowly lost to the eventual runner-up remains to be seen.
On Thursday evening, they warmed up for this by beating Brentford’s second string in friendly action, this will be a much tougher test, though.
Positives for the hosts
There were of course plenty of positives for England to take from their time in Qatar. As touched on in this preview above, they realised a lot of their attacking potential, which allowed them to go to Italy and deliver a confident, front-foot performance from the outset on Thursday.
Far too often Southgate’s men play ponderous, slow football, but they played with real purpose during the first half in Naples, which is why created plenty of scoring opportunities and took a deserved two-goal lead.
In the second half of that game, things did get slightly negative, as has often been the case under Southgate, with pragmatism and nullification ruling the play. When push comes to shove against decent attacks, the Three Lions lack the defensive quality to withstand pressure. Since September, they have conceded in two out of two against Italy, shipping against Germany and France too.
Fortunately, Sunday’s opposition aren’t of the same quality, so keeping things tight may not be a problem.
Visitors lack practice at this level
It has been a while since the Ukrainians faced a team of England’s calibre, which probably does not hold them in good stead ahead of this game. In fact, the last time that they faced a team ranked inside FIFA’s top ten, was that Euro 2020 quarter-final tie in Rome, and they were simply outclassed on that occasion.
Their best efforts since that game came away to Scotland, when they won by three goals to one at Hampden Park in June of last year. However, they failed to kick on after that pleasing win, losing to Wales, while they have since lost to the Scots in relatively comprehensive fashion, which doesn’t exactly point towards them thriving at Wembley on Sunday.
English on top in this fixture
It was not that long ago that this pair faced each other. In the European Championships in 2021, the Three Lions made light work of brushing the Ukrainians aside on their way to the final, winning by four goals to nil. Prior to that, the pair drew two games on the bounce, though both of those came nearly a decade ago, so we should not read too much into that.
Interestingly, Ukraine have only ever registered one win against the English, winning on home soil back in 2019. They are yet to win in England, despite having had five attempts. They have lost four of those five games, scoring just two goals in the process.
Will the hosts run riot?
It is easy to think that the Three Lions will run riot against a Ukrainian side that is inferior, and maybe they will, but with the visitors likely to come and sit back, it might not be a thunderous win for the hosts.
After all, the English very much benefitted from the fact that the game against Italy was quite open and end-to-end during the first half. That allowed Southgate’s men to counter quickly, which they did well. We also saw their preference for playing on the break at the World Cup. What we saw in Qatar is that they can struggle to be as flowing offensively when a team sits back and deploys a less than open approach, much as the USA did.
The visitors lack the quality to get anything here, that’s clear from what they’ve produced in recent times. They don’t often concede a glut of goals when travelling, while they’ll surely be keen to stop England enjoying as much offensive freedom as they did when the pair last met in Rome.
Naturally, with the likes of Harry Kane, who became England’s record goal-getter on Thursday, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and a host of other attacking options, the home side has the quality to get the job done. Betting on them to win without the scoreline becoming too embarrassing for the Ukrainians looks like a solid option. So for the betting tips, this is the sole suggested bet for this preview:
- England to Win & Under 3.5 Goals @ 37/40 with BetVictor.
Bradley Gibbs is an experienced football writer. He is an expert analyst on Premier League, and all global football leagues & tournaments, for Just Bookies. Bradley has been published by many respected outlets, including USA Betting and the Racing & Football Outlook. He has also written betting strategy guides.