Leaden-footed England plod on towards samba party

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - England remain on course to qualify for next year's World Cup finals but the tedious nature of their 0-0 draw in Kiev on Tuesday did little to suggest they will bring much fun to the party.

New FA chairman Greg Dyke caused a stir last week when he pretty much dismissed England's chances of success in south America next year and the boring draw against Ukraine offered little to contradict him.

Captain Steven Gerrard endorsed manager Roy Hodgson's view that England "got the job done" by avoiding defeat and so remaining in control of their Group H destiny.

However, England's fans were unlikely to spend Wednesday chatting excitedly about solid defending, gutsy draws or honest endeavour.

England, as expected, set out their stall not to lose and, in that respect, it was mission accomplished but the fear remains that these days, against even half-decent sides such as Ukraine, that is the sum of the team's ambition.

So far in the qualifying process England's only victories have come against San Marino and Moldova with their other four matches being drawn.

Already there appears to be a presumption that England will beat Montenegro and Poland at home next month to seal their place among the 32 nations heading to Brazil, but it could be a dangerous one, given the obvious limitations of the squad.

In mitigation, Hodgson was without Wayne Rooney against Ukraine while strikers Daniel Sturridge (injured) and Danny Welbeck (suspended) were unavailable.

However, Sturridge and Welbeck are hardly established internationals and the fact that their absence is so keenly felt underlines the paucity of attacking flair available to Hodgson when he sits down to select his squads.

MISSED CHANCE

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere, of whom one television commentator said last week against Moldova: "When he goes down injured a nation holds its breath", was virtually invisible against Ukraine where the stage was set for him to take a game by the scruff of the neck in the way Paul Gascoigne once did.

James Milner offered honest graft while 35-year-old Frank Lampard, who was earning his 100th cap and missed a late chance, was single-paced and often peripheral alongside Gerrard.

In attack, Rickie Lambert was forced to feed off scraps and will probably be relieved to get back to Southampton whose creative department offer far more than England's.

Former England striker Gary Lineker, now working as a television presenter, was at a loss to explain 90 minutes of "action" miles away from the high-octane play served up at Premier League grounds up and down the country every week.

"What happens to some of these players when they pull on an England shirt?" Lineker asked.

British newspapers seemed undecided whether to applaud the team for a gutsy rearguard action in Kiev or bemoan the lack of quality on display.

The Daily Mail's back page said England's hopes of winning the group were "on a knife edge" and described the evening's display as toothless.

"Dull England labour the point" was the headline on the back of the Times which suggested that England's "angst-ridden" qualifying campaign was not a foregone conclusion.

The Telegraph summed up the mood with the headline: "Road to Nowhere".

England should, and probably will, gain the points they need from the next two matches at Wembley to join the samba party next year but few will expect them to illuminate the tournament with the quality of their football.

"If they intend playing as wretchedly as this in Brazil, they would be well-advised to keep their cars in short-stay (parking) at Heathrow and keep the engines running," wrote the Telegraph's football correspondent.

"On this dispiriting evidence, England won't get the ball off the kids on Copacabana beach, let alone Spain or Brazil."

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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