Euro 2020 profile: Ukraine out to turn back time

by | Jun 9, 2021 14:08 | Editorial, Euro 2020

13 June – Netherlands (7pm GMT, Johan Cruijff ArenA, Amsterdam)

17 June – North Macedonia (1pm GMT, Arena Națională, Bucharest)

21 June – Austria (4pm GMT, Arena Națională, Bucharest)

Zbirna have lost their way since a momentous 2019, but Owen Diana belives that they cannot be taken lightly in group C.

Sheva shows the way

What a difference a year can make. Had this European Championship been held back in the summer of 2020, Ukraine would have been viewed as a dark horse candidate to advance deep into the knockout stages. A talented team led by legendary former striker Andriy Shevchenko had torn through a tough qualifying section that included the likes of Portugal and Serbia, which left the Yellow and Blue as one of the six seeded sides for the showpiece.

The Eastern Europeans had their tails up after an undefeated 2019, but performances have dipped notably since that impressive run of form. Only three wins have been obtained from 13 matches over the last 18 months, with shellackings suffered against Spain (4-0) and France (7-1) reversing the positive momentum that had been built.

Although Ukraine are in a rut results-wise, they still boast a squad packed with quality. Manchester City left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko is a crafty central creator for his country, while Ruslan Malinovskyi comes into this summer’s festivities off the back of a series of superb showings in Serie A. That dynamic duo will be expected to supply the bullets for Gent goal-getter Roman Yaremchuk, who found the back of the net 23 times this season.

The Ukrainians are capable of free-flowing football when on song, and they will rely on that surfeit of attacking ability to help them escape the group stage in this competition for the first time ever. A favourable draw should also aid their attempts to achieve that aim, with an unremarkable Dutch team the most credible threat.

Frank De Boer’s charges are first up on the docket, and the outcome of that contest will set the tone for the remaining matches. If a point can be procured in Amsterdam, Shevchenko’s side will be full of confidence ahead of decisive duels with North Macedonia and Austria.

The ex-Dynamo Kiev hitman will likely switch systems before those crucial contests in Bucharest. A back five has been deployed with increasing regularity against elite opposition, while an attack-minded 4-3-3 is the preferred setup against more limited rivals.

That aggressive approach is a major departure from the conservatism that ruled the roost in the nation’s football for decades, and Shevchenko deserves plenty of praise for starting that culture shift. More than a few eyebrows were raised when the 44-year-old was appointed five years ago, but he has proved his critics wrong since failing to reach Russia 2018.

A round of 16 appearance would further burnish Sheva’s sterling reputation, and that objective seems attainable in perhaps the competition’s weakest group. North Macedonia are a Cinderella story, while Austria haven’t won a game in a major tournament since the 1990 World Cup.

Despite their wretched recent record, the Ukrainians must fancy their chances to make it out of group C. If they can manage that, anything is possible once the knockout stages start. An early exit from the single elimination phase is the most likely outcome, but that would be no shame for a side that has come a long way since 2016.

Coach: Andriy Shevchenko – The former Milan hero had barely any coaching experience before taking over for Mykhaylo Fomenko, but has defied his doubters during his time in charge. His legend would only grow if he can guide his country into the knockout stages this summer.

Preferred XI: Bushchan, Karavaev, Kryvtsov, Matviyenko, Mykolenko, Zinchenko, Stepanenko, Malinovskyi, Zubkov, Yarmolenko, Yaremchuk

A 4-3-3 is Shevchenko’s preferred setup, but the 44-year-old has deployed a back five against stronger foes. The strength of the side is undoubtedly in the engine room, where Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ruslan Malinovskyi form a fantastic partnership ahead of the steady Taras Stepanenko.

Look out for: Creating a cohesive unit is more difficult in international football given the relative lack of training time compared to the club game, but that is less of a problem for the Ukrainians. A whopping 17 of their 26-man squad play at Dynamo Kiev or Shakhtar Donetsk.

Ukraine Euro 2020 squad:

Goalkeepers: Georgiy Bushchan (Dynamo Kyiv), Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Anatolii Trubin (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Defenders: Eduard Sobol (Club Brugge), Illia Zabarnyi (Dynamo Kyiv), Serhiy Kryvtsov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Denys Popov (Dynamo Kyiv), Oleksandr Tymchyk (Dynamo Kyiv), Vitaliy Mykolenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Oleksandr Karavaev (Dynamo Kyiv), Mykola Matviyenko (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Midfielders: Serhiy Sydorchuk (Dynamo Kyiv), Ruslan Malinovskyi (Atalanta), Mykola Shaparenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Marlos (Shakhtar Donetsk), Yevhen Makarenko (Kortrijk), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City), Viktor Tsygankov (Dynamo Kyiv), Taras Stepanenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Andriy Yarmolenko (West Ham), Oleksandr Zubkov (Ferencvaros), Heorhii Sudakov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Roman Bezus (Gent)

Forwards: Roman Yaremchuk (Gent), Artem Besedin (Dynamo Kyiv), Artem Dovbyk (Dnipro-1)

Ukraine versus…

…Netherlands P 2 W 0 D 1 L 1 F 1 A 4

…North Macedonia P 2 W 2 D 0 L 0 F 3 A 0

…Austria P 2 W 1 D 0 L 1 F 4 A 4

Stats

Population: 44.39m

Nickname: Zbirna, The Yellow and Blue

Top division: Favbet Liha

FIFA World Ranking: 24

International honors: None

Most capped player: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (144)

Leading international goalscorer: Andriy Shevchenko (48)

Ukraine at the European Championships

1960 – Did not exist

1964 – Did not exist

1968 – Did not exist

1972 – Did not exist

1976 – Did not exist

1980 – Did not exist

1984 – Did not exist

1988 – Did not exist

1992 – Did not exist

1996 – Did not qualify

2000 – Did not qualify

2004 – Did not qualify

2008 – Did not qualify

2012 – Group Stage

2016 – Group Stage

How they got to Euro 2020: Shevchenko’s side went undefeated in a tricky group that contained reigning champions Portugal and a skilful Serbia outfit. A 2-1 win over the Iberians on October 14, 2019 secured qualification with a match to spare.

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