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Ukraine only played their first game in 1992 and had several near-misses in playoffs to get major tournaments in 1998, 2000 and 2002. The breakthrough came in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, where eventual champions Italy knocked them out in the quarter-finals.
Netherlands – Amsterdam: Sunday, June 13, 8pm
North Macedonia – Bucharest: Thursday, June 17, 2pm
Austria – Bucharest: Monday, June 21, 5pm
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
This is the first time Ukraine have qualified directly for a European Championship having previously made it as hosts in 2012 and through a playoff in 2016. On both occasions they did not get beyond group stage.
Their results in qualifying were impressive, most notably drawing 0-0 in Portugal and beating the current champions at home, as well as beating Serbia 5-0.
Things have not gone so well since. Five defeats and just a single victory saw them relegated from a difficult Nations League group – including a nightmare tie against Switzerland where their opponents were awarded a walkover due to COVID. There was cause for optimism earlier this year after avoiding defeat to France, as well as Finland and Kazakhstan, although in both of those later games they would have expected to get six points.
Andriy Shevchenko. Champions League winner, Ballon d’Or winner and most importantly, on the cover of FIFA 2005 (honour shared with Patrick Viera and Fernando Morientes). Considered at one time to be the best striker in world football, no player has scored more goals (14) in the Milan derby. Unfortunately, the Premier League never saw the best of him when he arrived at Chelsea or in Istanbul against Liverpool either. Shevchenko says himself the wound is still bleeding from that famous collapse.
As a player for his country, he did it all. Sheva is Ukraine’s top goalscorer with 48 goals in 111 caps, and captained them at their first World Cup in Germany. He was promoted to his first managerial job from assistant after Ukraine crashed out of Euro 2016, and remained in charge despite failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. That faith was rewarded with Ukraine booking a place at Euro 2020.
Expect a 4-1-4-1 against the Dutch to open with after getting a positive result in World Cup qualifiers against France using this approach.
The squad depth has developed, and the talent is there, all be it limited. Ruslan Malinovskyi is the heartbeat of the team with important support from the hard-working Roman Yaremchuk, creativity from Oleksander Zinchenko and experience from Taras Stepanenko ensuring the backline does not get exposed.
Ruslan Malinovskyi. Most that follow the Premier League will know Zinchenko and Andriy Yarmolenko but to give some additional insight to this team, the one to watch is Malinovsky. Those
that watch Atalanta will know how good he is. This is second season with the Italian side, and eight goals and 12 assists from 22 Serie A starts (36 appearances) is impressive.
He was an important figure in qualifying with three goals and three assists, and at 28 years of age he is perfectly primed to peak. If Ukraine do something in this tournament then Malinovskyi could be a name that sticks with you in same way Luis Figo did at Euro 2000 and Karel Poborsky did at Euro ’96. The potential is there.
ONE TO WATCH
Zinchenko doesn’t play the role you see at Manchester City. He is the national team’s No.10 and chief playmaker tasked with making taking happen in the attacking third. Perceived as making a mistake that cost the team in a recent 3-1 defeat to Germany, he and his family received death threats. He called out those ‘supporters’ on Instagram and asked the true fans to stick with the team, admitting he felt responsible for the defeat. Zinchenko clearly cares about his country doing well and has the talent to make a difference.
Here’s all the key data on Ukraine’s squad.
- Squads and statistics correct at time of data sheet creation.
Ukraine could very easily get out of the group, possibly even top it, but at same time could be going home after three games.
There is an argument that they are better prepared due to the tournament’s delayed start with Shevchenko learning a lot in the last 12 months, particularly after 4-0 and 7-1 defeats to Spain and France. I expect them to get out of the group and with the most likely outcome a second-round exit to Italy at Wembley.
Part of this thinking is the Netherlands are taking up too much of the market and I genuinely think Ukraine can cause a shock in the opening game in Amsterdam. If they do so, the price to top the group will look be a great bet.
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