Excellence of Saka guides England home, but Wembley belongs to Ukraine's proud fans
European Championship Qualifying Group
England (2) 2 Kane 37, Saka 40
Ukraine (0) 0
Bukayo Saka once again underlined just how vital he has become for club and country, with an assist and a goal as England made it two wins out of two in the Euro qualifiers.
The Arsenal winger is having the sort of season you would expect from a player at his peak, yet here he is at 21, already reaching incredibly consistent heights.
Technically and mentally, he seems to be already at an astonishing level – able to get up and carry on after being clattered. Unafraid of taking vital penalties, having once missed one in one of the biggest internationals you can play in.
If Arsenal do end up top of the pile in May, he will have had much to do with it and surely merit the player of the season award.
Saka lit up Wembley by first laying on the opener for skipper Harry Kane, who wasted no time in adding to his record-breaking 54 goals for England by burying a lovely chip to the far post.
Then, the winger bent in a glorious shot from just outside the area to double the lead. It was his eighth goal for his country.
Ukraine seldom threatened, spirited though they were. Chelsea’s Mykhailo Mudryk was given little room to manoeuvre by the suffocating pace and power of Kyle Walker down the England right and departed after an hour. Jordan Pickford had only some minor housekeeping to deal with.
The corner packed with flag waving Ukraine fans was determined to savour the occasion – to forget, however, briefly, the unimaginable horrors being inflicted on their homeland.
Even the roars when the yellow shirts simply got into the England half was impressive.
This was a match where they wanted, above all, to see their team put on a good show that they could be proud of. “Maybe that’s even more important than the result,” a Ukrainian journalist told me ahead of kick-off.
England fans perhaps subconsciously throttled back on the nationalist fervour. For most there will be feelings of fraternal empathy with an embattled national. It was also a cold and lifeless March afternoon, which hardly helped.
But they wanted to see their team build on that superb opening to the Euro qualifying campaign on Thursday in Naples and after a slow start, they got what they wanted.
Kane, whose penalty secured a 2-1 win in Italy – a first against them there since 1961 – was honoured before kick-off for his record-breaking national goal tally. The passing of World Cup winner George Cohen was given a minute’s applause.
Strangely, considering all the minute’s silences we normally get these days, none was invoked in memory of the dead in Ukraine, which was the one jarring note of the afternoon.
James Maddison earned only his second England cap, as Phil Foden was ruled out following an appendix op, and he enjoyed the involvement, having missed out on the action in Qatar at the World Cup.
It was a happy day too for Brentford’s Ivan Toney, who replaced Kane late on to earn his first cap. Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher almost scored after being introduced for the final knockings.
England: (4-3-3) Pickford – Walker, Stones, Maguire, Chilwell – Bellingham (Gallagher 86), Henderson, Rice – Saka, Kane (Toney 81), Maddison (Grealish 85)
Ukraine: (4-3-3) Trubin – Karavaev (Buyalskyi 61), Svatok, Matviyenko, Mykolenko (Sobol 61) – Sudakov, Stepanenko (Konoplyanka 90), Zinchenko – Malinovskyi, Yaremchuk (Dovbyk 74), Mudryk (Tsygankov 61)