51 min It’s end-to-end stuff. After a promising Ukraine breaks down, Italy counter and the tireless Chiesea wins a corner.
49 min Italy have come flying out of the traps again. Fratessi robs Zinchenko in a dangerous area and plays a one-two with Scamacca, but the move eventually peters out.
48 min Scamacca volleys over from eight yards, though the flag had gone up for offside.
46 min Zaniolo tries to a hurdle a challenge from Mykolenko and accidentally scrapes his studs on Mykolenko as he lands. No VAR intervention.
46 min Peep peep!
Italy have made a half-time change Gianluca Scamacca replaces Giacomo Raspadori up front.
“I agree with you that the story of the match so far is Italy’s baffling inability to score, but Ukraine have shown flashes of quality while generally conserving energy,” says Kári Tulinius. “If Italy keep playing at that kind of tempo, they’ll eventually get tired, and Ukraine could hurt them.”
Indeed. It really is beautifully poised.
A 0-0 draw is enough for Italy to reach Euro 2024, so plenty of people will nod sagely upon seeing this scoreline. But anyone who watched an exhilarating first half knows that a goalless draw is the last thing on Italy’s mind. They attacked relentlessly and had a number of near misses. Ukraine struggled to get out – but when they did the pace of Mudryk and the craft of Sudakov made them dangerous, and Donnarumma had as many saves to make as his opposite number Trubin.
See you in 10 minutes for the second half, when one team will qualify for next summer’s tournament and the other will be catapulted into the playoffs.
44 min Jorginho is robbed in a dangerous area by Sudakov, who moves from centre to right and clips a cross that takes a slight touch off an Italian defender, thus wrongfooting the unmarked Mudryk at the far post.
42 min Chiesa goes on another thrilling run into the area from the left. Eventually he’s crowded out but Ukraine struggled to clear the ball. Barella hits a rasper from the edge of the D that is blocked by Svatok, then Frattesi’s follow-up hits his teammate Raspadori.
39 min “Hagler v Hearns could be many teams, but Italy and Ukraine have been involved in some of the worst games of all time,” says Justin Kavanagh. “The world has gone mad when you can’t even rely on the Italians for 90 minutes of cagey fliphousery and a late stolen goal. But Sir Alex did warn us to always check under the sauce.”
Or under the bald head of Luciano Spaletti, whose teams have always played aggressive, often exhilarating football.
38 min A rare Ukraine attack. Sudakov clips a dangerous ball into the area towards Tsygankov, and Buongiorno backpedals to make an important headed clearance.
37 min Possession so far: Ukraine 34-66 Italy. It feels more like 30-70.
36 min The longer this stays 0-0, the more Italy will experience some unpleasant flashbacks.
34 min Ukraine are struggling to spend any quality time with the ball. Italy have been so dynamic, with and without the ball.
32 min: Another near miss for Italy! Dimarco’s swaggering backheel releases Chiesa on the left. He charges into the area and slides a low cross that just, and I mean just, evades the sliding Raspadori in the six-yard box.
30 min Dimarco shoots just wide on the turn, though the flag had gone up for offside. Italy are playing some blistering football.
29 min: Fine save by Trubin! Chiesa set off on a brilliant run infield and then played a sliderule pass to put Frattesi through on goal. He tried to slide a first-time shot across Trubin, who charged from his line and did the splits to save with his left leg.
28 min: Chance for Italy! Dimarco’s inswinging corner from the right is headed just wide by Di Lorenzo at the near post. He was moving away from goal and couldn’t get enough of a flick on the ball to send it on target.
27 min Zaniolo swerves away to from Zinchenko and plays a reverse pass to Frattesi on the right. He surges into the area, forcing Mykolenko to make a desperate but effective challenge. Another corner to Italy…
26 min The last few minutes have been quieter, though Italy continue to dominate possession. Jorginho must have had 20 or 30 touches already.
23 min Italy’s pressing is making it increasingly difficult for Ukraine to get out. They’ve been impressive so far.
20 min Italy continue to relieve themselves all over the grave of catenaccio, winning their fifth corner of a match they don’t even need to win. It’s taken short again and clipped beyond the far post, where the backpedalling Di Lorenzo heads onto the roof of the net. A pretty tough chance.
19 min Raspadori plays a neat one-two in a phonebox-sized space and drives a shot from the edge of the area that is well blocked by Zabarnyi.
17 min I thought this would be a cagey start, given what’s at stake. Instead we’ve had a footballing tribute to Hagler v Hearns, with both teams swinging like it’s the 12th round.
16 min: Good save by Trubin! This is sheer delightful entertainment. A short corner is worked to Barella, whose fierce shot from 25 yards takes a slight deflection and is pushed behind by Trubin, diving to his right.
14 min: Fine save by Donnarumma! Suddenly it’s all Ukraine. Sudakov receives a return pass 25 yards from goal and rifles a sweet low drive that is beaten away by Donnarumma, plunging to his right.
13 min Another dangerous cross from Mudryk, who looks really sharp, is cleared by the stretching Acerbi.
12 min This is great stuff. Mudryk roasts Di Lorenzo and stands up a dangerous cross that is headed clear at the far post by Dimarco. That was a crucial clearance.
11 min Italy are controlling possession at the moment. Zaniolo swaggers infield from the right but then overhits his cross/pass.
9 min Barry Davies will be pleased, because Italy certainly aren’t playing for a draw. It’s been a cracking start to the game, full of intent and intensity.
8 min The young centre-back Buongiorno is booked for pulling back Dovbyk, who was galloping away from him down the right.
7 min: Great chance for Barella! Italy should be ahead. They took a short corner on the left, with the ball eventually crossed beyond the far post. Zaniolo headed it back across goal and Barella, eight yards out, miskicked a half-volley over the bar.
5 min Tsygankov waves a long-range shot that is comfortably saved by Donnarumma, falling to his left.
2 min The atmosphere is spectacular, and has contributed to a very fast start from both sides. Raspadori’s shot from the edge of the area is blocked.
1 min Peep peep! No idea what that was about, but Ukraine have got the game under way.
There’s a delay to the kick off, though I’m not sure why. The players are ready to go.
The players walk out of the tunnel for what is a huge game. The Ukraine players are draped in flags, and there’s a cracking atmosphere for a game being played on a neutral ground.
England P7 Pts 19
Italy P7 Pts 13
Ukraine P7 Pts 13
North Macedonia P7 Pts 7
Malta P8 Pts 0
Italy are ahead of Ukraine because they beat them 2-1 in Milan in September. (They also have a superior goal difference.)
England play North Macedonia in the other game in this group. The great Scott Murray is all over that one.
Both teams make four changes from their wins over North Macedonia and Malta respectively on Friday.
Yukhym Konoplia, Oleksandr Svatok, Taras Stepanenko and Viktor Tsygankov replace Oleksandr Karavaev, Mykola Matviyenko, Serhii Sydorchuk and Vladyslav Vanat in the Ukraine XI.
For Italy, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Alessandro Buongiorno (winning only his second cap), Davide Frattesi and Nicolo Zaniolo replace Matteo Darmian, Federico Gatti, Giacomo Bonaventura and Domenico Berardi.
Ukraine (possible 4-1-2-3) Trubin; Konoplia, Svatok, Zabarnyi, Mykolenko; Stepanenko; Sudakov, Zinchenko; Tsygankov, Dovbyk, Mudryk.
Substitutes: Bushchan, Riznyk, Bondar, Sydorchuk, Malinovskyi, Yaremchuk, Sikan, Pikhalonok, Tymchyk, Zubkov, Dubinchak, Matviyenko.
Italy (possible 4-1-2-3) Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Acerbi, Buongiorno, Dimarco; Jorginho; Frattesi, Barella; Zaniolo, Raspadori, Chiesa.
Substitutes: Provedel, Vicario, Gatti, Biraghi, Bonavenutura, Scamacca, Kean, Darmian, Cristante, Politano, El Shaarawy, Mancini.
Referee Jesus Gil Manzano (Spain).
Hello and welcome to live coverage of the Euro 2024 qualifier between Ukraine and Italy in Leverkusen. It’s a playoff before the playoffs, a meeting in Germany for the right to go back to Germany next summer. Ukraine need a win to qualify automatically from Group C along with England. The defending champions Italy just need a draw.
The loser has the playoffs to fall back on, though both know from bitter recent experience that they are anything but a sure thing. Tonight’s the night to get the job done.
Kick off 7.45pm GMT, 8.45pm in Leverkusen.