As co-hosts of Euro 2012, Ukraine missed out on a place in the knockout stage due in part to bad luck.
They were luckier in qualifying for Euro 2016 going through as best-performing third-placed team. Will this luck continue and carry them out of Group C in the summer?
Route to Euro 2016
Ukraine came third in Qualifying Group C behind Spain and Slovakia and qualified as the best-performing third-placed team.
They lost twice to eventual group winners, Spain. As very few expected them to beat the reigning champs, it would be easy to assume that it was their home loss to Slovakia in their first match that cost the team a runners-up place.
However, Ukraine were still in the running for second place in the final round of matches. They came up against a transitional Spain side that had already qualified for the finals of Euro 2016 and had nothing to lose.
Despite not being able to take advantage of a team in transition, Ukraine’s six clean sheets in 10 games prove their strength in defence. Their two centre-backs, Yevhen Khacheridi and Yaroslav Rakitskiy, have proved a solid pairing.
As joint hosts with Poland in 2012, Ukraine won their opening game against Sweden thanks to two goals from Andriy Shevchenko in his last tournament before retirement.
Ukraine then lost to France and had to beat England in the last group game to reach the knockout stage.
Ultimately, England won the game 1-0, thanks to a glaring mistake by goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov, which set up Wayne Rooney for the only goal of the match.
Ukraine did actually get the ball across the English goal-line, but the referee and his assistant didn’t see and England’s John Terry smashed it away.
Influenced greatly by Valeriy Lobanovskyi (his coach at Dynamo Kiev during his playing days), Mykhaylo Fomenko demands a fluid style and is a stickler for possession football. He took over with six 2014 World Cup qualifiers left and led them to a run of five wins.
Their run ended with a draw against England and they finished as runners-up. After a 2-0 home win in the first leg of the play-off against France, it was thought that Ukraine were on their way to Brazil, thanks to Fomenko.
Yet it wasn’t to be, as they displayed their old weakness for crosses during the return leg. They lost 3-0 to France, threw away their two goal advantage and stumbled out of the competition.
Most important player
26-year-old left winger, Andriy Yarmolenko, is able to play anywhere across the attacking midfield three in a 4-2-3-1 formation. He is at his best when cutting in off the right flank to use his powerful left foot.
At 6’ 2”, he is strong and wiry, with great skill in the air. Yarmolenko is also very fast, which makes him a mighty opponent. Indeed, he can beat many full-backs in a battle of technique, tactics, physique, or speed.
Defensive midfielder Serhiy Sydorchuk is the heir to Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, the current squad captain who is likely to add to his tally of 141 caps in Euro 2016. However, it surely won’t be long until Sydorchuk has a chance to shine for the Ukraine national team.
In terms of positioning, Sydorchuk is excellent. He makes great use of his athletic prowess to drive play forward. He also creates a number of passing options for the forward players.
He is confident in front of goal and shows great skill in making passes that pick out Yarmolenko’s runs. Sydorchuk’s only issue may be his tendency to be hot-headed, which sees him foul more than he should.
Ukraine face a tough group consisting of Germany, Poland and Northern Ireland. Having proven they can beat the Germans in qualifying, Ukraine definitely have a chance of reaching the knockout phase of the Euros for the first time ever.
It’s true that they are unlikely to beat the world champions to first place, but we reckon the fight for second place against Poland will be one to watch.