England have an immediate opportunity for revenge against the team that denied them a place at UEFA EURO 2008 after they were pitted against top seeds Croatia in Group 6. Just four days after a 3-2 home defeat by Slaven Bilic's men cost them progress to next June's continental showpiece in Austria and Switzerland - and prompted the immediate dismissal of manager Steve McClaren - England's footballers learned they would be facing Croatia again and they will doubtless be desperate to make amends.
In addition to winning at Wembley, a talented Croatia team also beat England 2-0 in Zagreb in a match where Brazil-born striker Eduardo struck one of his ten qualifying goals. Both teams have qualified for the past three FIFA World Cups but their pursuit of first place, and a direct ticket to South Africa, may prove more than just a two-horse race. Ukraine had their first taste of the world stage at Germany 2006, where, like England, they reached the last eight, and they will be doubly determined to return to the limelight after missing out on EURO 2008.
England's first qualifying failure since 1993 has precipitated some serious soul-searching in the birthplace of the game but by the time next September comes round, England will have a new manager and their players, the fans will hope, a new sense of purpose following a summer without football.
Ukraine: They may have finished fourth in their EURO 2008 qualifying group but the generation of young players, spearheaded by Dynamo Kiev striker Artem Milevskiy, who finished second in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in 2006 should offer fresh hope.
Belarus: They upset the Netherlands 2-1 in Minsk in their final qualifier for EURO 2008 and feature in the clever Arsenal midfielder Aleksandr Hleb a player with genuine star quality.
The stars to follow
Luka Modric, Eduardo da Silva (CRO), Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney (ENG), Artem Milevskiy (UKR)
The crunch match
It is impossible to look beyond the rematch between Croatia and England. There was a feeling in the Croatian camp that England's stars, who had never previously lost to the eastern Europeans, underestimated them in EURO 2008 qualifying but there is absolutely no danger that will happen again.
A look back
Croatia 2-0 Ukraine, 29 October 1997, Zagreb
Croatia coach Bilic was a goalscorer when Croatia overcame Ukraine in a qualifying play-off for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Bilic found the net in Croatia's 2-0 first-leg victory in Zagreb and a 1-1 draw in Kiev the following month ensured Miroslav Blazevic's team their place in France.
1 - the number of points Kazakhstan earned in their first European zone qualifying campaign in 2004-05. However, they ran Ukraine close in their first game in September 2004, losing 2-1 after a 90th-minute Ruslan Rotan goal.
Did you know?
Andorra have played a combined ten games against their opponents in Group 6, losing nine of them without scoring. The sole exception was a 2-0 home victory over Belarus in an April 2000 friendly.
Croatia surprised England in EURO 2008 but can the Balkan team cope with the increased expectation and make lightning strike twice?