Heading into the upcoming European Championships, Ukraine are far from stapled into the tournament’s history- only qualifying three times and failing to venture outside the group stages. However, led by former Ballon d’Or winner and all time leading goalscorer Andriy Shevchenko, there is a school of thought that they could ruffle a few feathers this month.
Ukraine last qualified for an International competition in 2016, where they came third in their Qualification group to earn a place in France. But, their campaign went up in flames. Drawn in a group with Germany, Poland and Northern Ireland, they lost all their matches and finished rock bottom, failing to score a solitary goal. The defeat promptly made them the worst team of the tournament, though a lot has changed since then.
They now boast a talented squad that is more than able of competing. It is a young one, with an average age of 25.92, Ukraine have the tournament’s fourth-youngest squad. Under the tuition of former Ballon d’Or winner and all-time leading goalscorer Andriy Shevchenko, there is a school of thought that they could ruffle a few feathers this month.
Goalkeepers: Heorhiy Bushchan (Dynamo Kyiv), Anatoliy Trubin (Shakhtar Donetsk), Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Defenders: Oleksandr Karavayev (Dynamo Kyiv), Oleksandr Tymchyk (Dynamo Kyiv), Eduard Sobol (Club Brugge), Vitaly Mykolenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Denys Popov (Dynamo Kyiv), Serhiy Kryvstov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Mykola Mativienko (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Midfielders: Taras Stepanenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Serhiy Sydorchuk (Dynamo Kyiv), Mykola Shaparenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Yevhen Makarenko (Anderlecht), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City), Roman Bezus (Gent), Heorhiy Sudakov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ruslan Malinovskyi (Atalanta), Oleksandr Zubkov (Ferencvaros), Marlos (Shakhtar Donetsk), Andriy Yarmolenko (West Ham United)
Forwards: Roman Yaremchuk (Gent), Artem Besedin (Shakhtar Donetsk), Artem Dovbyk (Dnipro-1)
Who will they play?
Ukraine have been drawn in Group C and will initiate their EURO 2020 campaign against The Netherlands on June 13th. Following the daunting inaugural fixture, they face North Macendonia and Austria- and you feel the latter could also give them some problems.
After failing to qualify for the last two International tournaments, The Netherlands have overseen a rejuvenation of their squad, with some players blossoming and others breaking through at a rapid rate. It is difficult to garner much optimism for North Macedonia, though, who are entering their first ever major competition and are situated in a formidable group. Austria boast a gifted core of players, too, and will not prove an easy task for anyone.
Ruslan Malinovskyi- Atalanta
Ukraine head into EURO 2020 with a significant, and rather unique boost- in perplexing playmaker Ruslan Malinovskyi, they have one of Europe’s most in-form players at the moment.
Since the departure of Argentine midfielder Alejandro Gomez from Atalanta in January, the license for a starting berth presented itself to Malinovskyi. He has made the most of that, finishing the season with 22 goal involvement in all competitions and scoring or assisting in 11 of his last 12 matches (7 goals and 9 assists).
Most commonly deployed in the number 10 role, Malinovskyi can classify a creative spark and a sledgehammer-Esque left foot as crucial components of his footballing arsenal, which Ukraine will be weighing on massively this Summer.
The Serie A starlet is making his debut at an International tournament and, considering his stunning vein of form right now, I fully expect him to captivate.
Viktor Tsygankov- Dynamo Kyiv
Dynamo by club name and certainly dynamo by style, rocket-heeled winger Viktor Tsygankov is another Ukrainian talent that presents an unappealing option to face off against.
After all, at the age of 23, Tsygankov has already contributed to 128 goals for Dynamo Kyiv after making his debut in August 2016- and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that vultures have been circling to prize him away from the Ukrainian capital.
The Israeli-born hotshot is widely renowned as the finest prospect to emerge from Ukrainian football since current boss Shevchenko also starred for Kyiv before departing Eastern Europe. He has already proved his worth in both the Europa League and the Champions League, too, getting on the scoresheet in a 2-1 defeat at Barcelona back in November.
Now though, all of Europe will be watching with keen, attentive eyes. A good tournament with Ukraine could promptly merit a pivotal transfer, with Leicester City reportedly keen admirers of his talent.
Oleksandr Zinchenko- Manchester City
The versatility of Ukraine utility man Oleksandr Zinchenko proved to play a big impact in Manchester City’s Premier League title win and their run to the Champions League Final. The Sky Blues may have tumbled at the last hurdle to Chelsea, but Zinchenko will be looking to translate his importance on the club stage to EURO 2020.
Whilst injuries and a general dearth of options have forced Pep Guardiola to shoehorn the 24-year old into the left-back berth (where he has thrived), he typically tends to play in a more advanced role for Ukraine.
His solidified position is yet to be cemented, though- he has featured as a wing-back, as part of a midfield three and as 10 during across his International career, leaving many to wonder where he will play this summer.
But, with an exquisite passing range and the ability to operate at a very high tempo throughout, he is fully expected to excel wherever he plays.
Players to keep an eye on
Roman Yaremchuk- Gent
Similarly to a lot of Ukrainian players, Gent striker Roman Yaremchuk is arriving to the Euros in inspired form that will only instil further optimism to supporters of the nation.
In 28 Jupiler Pro League outings, the former Dynamo Kyiv man found the back of the net 17 times and complemented his goalscoring prowess with an outlay of six assists, his best return to date.
Capable of operating in a range of attacking positions, Yaremchuk is quick off the mark and at 6ft1, he beholds a physical presence and can convert chances aerially. Considering Gent only finished seventh this term, a move to one of Europe’s top five leagues could be on the cards if the 26-year old can translate his eye-catching club form to the International platform.
Oleksandr Karavayev- Dynamo Kyiv
To begin their World Cup Qualification Campaign, Ukraine adopted a new tactical setup that they will likely be utilising this month. They now play 5 at the back, with Oleksandr Karavayev making up one of the two modernised wing-backs in the system.
As a result, he is tasked with making upfield runs and joining the attack, something he has done dutifully by notching two assists in their opening three matches, against world champions France and Finland.
It is dissimilar to what he has been doing in the Ukrainian Premier League with Dynamo Kyiv, scoring twice and laying on five this term. Karavayev, who has previously spent time with Shakhtar Donetsk and Fenerbache, is at his best on the right flank, however, he can also be deployed on the left-hand side if needed.
My prediction- Quarter Finals
Every single tournament, a dark horse emerges. A side not fancied by the masses, but spurred on by adversity and underdog status. In 2004, we had Greece- the dark horses of all dark horses as they won the tournament. 2008 yielded Turkey and Russia. 2012 had Greece again (kind of). And we all fell in love with Wales four years later.
Ukraine could be that team.
Despite being drawn in a qualifying group with the likes of Portugal and Serbia, Ukraine remained unbeaten and recorded a victory over Ronaldo and co in the process, finishing top in style.
And, in their eight qualifiers, they only conceded four goals. Out of the 54 teams in the qualifying stage, only Belgium and Turkey had fewer goals put past them. Their goalscoring record is more modest- they scored 17 goals, which ranks average compared to the rest of the qualifying teams, though with players such as Malinovskyi, Yaremchuk, Tsygankov and even West Ham’s Andriy Yarmelonko, they certainly carry an attacking threat.
As aforementioned, their EURO 2020 group isn’t easy. But, I believe they are more than capable of springing a few surprises and topping the group stage, which would see them face off against third place from Group D/E/F.
A quarter-final finish is most definitely attainable for a side of Ukraine’s quality.
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