Team Profile: Ukraine
To get a good idea of how I feel Ukraine will do in Euro 2012, let’s start with how they’ve previously done in the Euros:
Played 0, Won 0, Drawn 0, Lost 0.
Great start, I could just end it here. Although, they did play in the World Cup in 2006, and they did reach the quarter finals. Well… they beat Switzerland on penalties.
Zhovto-Blakytni (the Yellow-Blues) otherwise known as Ukraine, qualified automatically (along with Poland) by hosting the tournament, and in doing so, have undergone a rigorous schedule of friendly games in preparation. Surprisingly, they’re unbeaten in their last 6 games, including a 3-3 draw with Germany. However, previous defeats to Italy, France, Sweden, Uruguay and the Czech Republic suggest that they just won’t be able to cope with the bigger teams.
Ukraine share group D with England, France and Sweden, and previous results against said teams propose a bleak outcome for the co-host nation. Their record against England in particular has been varied, with England winning their first three meets before losing 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier in 2009, a match that marked Fabio Capello’s first competitive loss as England’s manager.
Ranked 50th in the world according to FIFA, they’ve dropped substantially from the 11th place they peaked at in 2007, following their quarter-final ranking at the World Cup the previous year. Still though, 50th is not so bad compared to their 132nd ranking way back in 1993, although they are below Armenia and El Salvador. Ouch.
Ukraine find themselves the lowest ranked team in Group D, and with France, England and Sweden among the world’s top 20 teams, the odds of qualification look slim. The first of their group matches is played against Sweden in capital city Kiev on the 11th June.
Once one of the most feared strikers in the game, Andriy Shevchenko is still undoubtedly Ukraine’s star man. Playing on home soil will be the perfect way for the former Ballon d’Or winner to retire from international football, and hopefully he will play, after suffering from injuries and being used sparingly by his club, Dynamo Kiev. He has been undergoing medical treatment in preparation for the tournament, and he has insisted that he will only play if fully fit. However, it would be a massive surprise if Ukraine’s captain didn’t feature at all.
Ukraine will need to stop looking to the 35 year old to lead their team, and turn to younger talent. How cliché, but you know it’s true. Enter, Andriy. Another one. Shevchenko’s Dynamo Kiev team-mate Andriy Yarmolenko may be another young talent looking to impress, as big tournaments are made for younger players to show the world what they can do – see Germany for more details. He can play up-front or on the flanks and was Ukraine’s top scorer in 2011, and Shaktar Donetsk and Napoli are both believed to have bid for the 22 year old in the past. He’s also been linked with AC Milan (apparently Shevchenko himself recommended they sign him) and Arsenal, so this will be a big tournament for him.
Oh yeah, there’s also another Andriy. That Voronin guy. Wow.
In addition, Ukraine boast Bayern Munich’s, three time Ukrainian footballer of the year winner Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, who is their most capped player of all time (115). He is almost certain to be in the starting line-up and will captain the team in the potential absence of Shevchenko.
They, like any other team, have had to deal with injury woes and aging players and they will be without experienced keeper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy (who was nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 1999) and Shakhtar defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy, so these will be key areas opposing teams will look to exploit.
Ukraine re-appointed legendary former striker Oleg Blokhin back in April 2011, following his resignation after failing to qualify for Euro 2008 and a year at FC Moscow. He replaced caretaker Yuri Kalitvintsev, who led Ukraine’s Under-19 side to the European title in 2009. Blokhin had previously managed the national side for four years, helping them reach the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup before being knocked out by eventual winners Italy. Kalitvintsev will now work under Blokhin as his assistant.
He was the first Ukrainian to win the Ballon d’Or and is still the highest goal-scorer in Soviet league history. Despite winning 112 caps for the USSR over a 16 year international career, he never appeared in the finals of the European Championships, so he will be eager to make his mark, now more than ever (despite the fact that they’re here by default). He seems to know what he is doing, and their recent form is good, but time will tell.
Ukraine, along with neighbours Poland, host Euro 2012 and though they have the much-required home support, Ukraine would not fancy themselves to be serious contenders for the trophy. As great as it would be, there doesn’t seem to be that ‘something’ in the air about the support from the home nations, and if you don’t know what I mean, think back to the World Cup 2010. You just HAD to support the African teams, regardless of whoever you supported. When Tshabalala scored that wonderful opening goal of the tournament, or when Ghana bowed out as the last African team (thanks, Suarez), you really felt all the emotions along with them. Somehow, I don’t think that will be the case this year.
In a tournament that features the current world and European champions, Spain, along with many former champions, the Ukrainians will consider themselves underdogs. However, they have sprung a surprise once in a while and they are more than capable of doing so again. This is why we love football.
Predicted Finish: last in Group D (sorry Ukraine).