England unaided by atmosphere-free Wembley

LONDON - Ukraine coach Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko said he was disappointed with the way some of his players had been overawed by the Wembley atmosphere in their 2-1 World Cup defeat by England. He should have been astonished.

Ukraine went into Wednesday's game unbeaten in three qualifiers and indeed played the first 30 minutes like rabbits caught in a car's headlights.

Their nerves, however, must have been based on the twin-towered mystique of the old stadium rather than the soulless feeling of the new.

At a cost of 800 million pounds, the new Wembley undoubtedly looks impressive and there was no hint of the credit crunch as the wine flowed in the packed private dining suites before the game.

Out in the seats, however, any hope of building a rip-roaring atmosphere before the game continues to be undone by the FA's obsession with deafening announcements.

In the 30 minutes before kick off on Wednesday fans were treated to a spoof comedy show involving the England players, a lengthy film pleading for respect for referees in amateur football -- including the chance to receive the FA's own guide to parental behaviour -- and pleas for the fans to respect the national anthems.

There were also the obligatory sales pitches for the new England kit, available now for "just 50 pounds.

By the time the players kicked off, the near-90,000 supporters in the stadium appeared to be relishing the peace rather than getting behind their heroes.

England fans bow to no-one when it comes to the noise they make at tournaments, but on home soil they are second division in comparison with the likes of Turkey and Croatia, who have their stadiums rocking hours before kick-off.

The result on Wednesday was a subdued atmosphere that seeped onto the pitch as England produced a flat performance.

Hanging on to Peter Crouch's 39th-minute opener, their 100 percent start to the campaign looked to be over when Andriy Shevchenko levelled after 74 minutes.

Only then did the players rouse themselves and, helped by some belated crowd encouragement, claimed their win through captain John Terry five minutes from time.

England's next qualifier is away to Kazakhstan, beaten 5-1 at home by Belarus on Wednesday, followed by a home game against Andorra, when earplugs are again unlikely to be necessary.