Euro 2012 fact-file - Ukraine
The co-hosts enter Euro 2012 in good form and will be eager to upset the odds in Group D. Ukraine mark their first ever appearance in the European Championships as one of the seeded teams as hosts, and will face Sweden, France and England on home soil.
Since their debut as an independent nation in 1992, the Zbirna have had little success on the international stage as a nation in their own right, but they were previously part of the USSR, who won the 1960 edition of this competition.
Preparations could not be going better as Oleg Blokhin’s side beat Estonia 4-0 in their latest warm up friendly match. That win stretched their unbeaten run of friendlies to six games, which included a 3-3 draw at home to Germany back in November. Their fellow group members, including England should be wary as the man dubbed by legendary striker Andriy Shevchenko as “the future of Ukrainian football” scored the opener against Estonia after just nine minutes. Andriy Yarmolenko is just 22 and has already scored eight goals for the national team. Although he has not been afforded much playing time outside of friendly games up until now, it seems Blokhin feels the time is right to unleash his talents upon the rest of Europe.
Injury rules out experienced defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy along with goalkeepers Andriy Dykan and Oleksandr Shovovskiy, whilst first choice keeper Oleksandr Rybka is currently serving a two-year suspension for a doping offence. From the initial 25-man squad, Blokhin has omitted goalkeeper Oleksandr Bandura, defender Vitaliy Mandziuk and midfielder Taras Stepanenko. Veteran hit-man Shevchenko is still expected to be the leading man in his swansong appearance for his country, but the captain has been used sparingly due to back problems throughout preparations for the tournament and has insisted that he will not play unless fully fit.
Should Shevchenko start in the opener against Sweden on June 11, then he will likely be afforded a free role behind a target man of either Andriy Voronin, Marco Devic or Andriy Yarmolenko. Alternatively, the 35-year-old can play as the lone striker but his once frightening pace has eluded him and so he will most likely play in the hole behind a lone striker. Blokhin often fluctuates between a 4-5-1 and a more traditional 4-4-2 formation, with Anatoliy Tymoshchuk filling in the holding midfield role. Against Estonia, Ukraine began with a 4-4-2 formation with a midfield quartet of Tymoshchuk, Serhiy Nazarenko, Evgeni Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko supporting a front two of Voronin and Devic.
Ukraine love to play on the counter-attack and their opponents should be aware of the pace at which they can break. Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka can often burst down the flanks and full-back Gusey also likes to venture down the wing with a burst of pace. Despite Shevchenko and Voronin both being on the wrong side of 30, the team is full of promising young players who will be hungry to prove themselves on a grand stage in front of home support. However, since returning to the helm, Blokhin has used over 40 different players and with their first choice goalkeeper unavailable, plus the absence of veteran stopper Chygrynskiy at the back, inexperience could take its toll on this young squad.
Coach - Oleg Blokin: Blokhin holds the joint record of most caps and goals for the USSR and will want to replicate this success as coach in his second spell in charge, as he led the Ukraine to the quarter-finals of their debut World Cup in 2006.
One to watch - Andriy Yarmolenko : Promoted from the under-19 squad following an impressive spell, the Dynamo Kiev star was one of the top-scorers in the league this season. Able to play both as a winger or a striker, the 22-year-old has already been hailed by Shevchenko as one for the future.
Possible starting XI:
Selin - Mikhalik - Khacheridi - Gusey
Tymoshchuk - Yarmolenko - Nazarenko - Konoplyanka
Voronin - - Devic
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