Euro 2020 preview, Group C – Ukraine: Andrew Todos thinks Shevchenko’s men could be dark horses
Our Matchday Squad will cover every nation at the Euros
For Euro 2020, we’ve assembled 24 expert journalists to give you the latest insight and tips on every team throughout the tournament.
Here, journalist Andrew Todos gives us his take on Ukraine…
Give us an overview of your team’s chances at Euro 2020
Ukraine became history makers in 2019 by remaining undefeated in a calendar year for the first time, whilst qualifying top in a group ahead of current holders Portugal and Serbia. There was a real sense of momentum in the side going into Euro 2020 last year until the postponement hit.
However, despite the delay, it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. A year has passed and arguably the Zbirna’s key men are in much better form, at least individually, since this time last year. Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ruslan Malinovskyi and Roman Yaremchuk have experienced the greatest seasons of their club careers so far, whilst Dynamo Kyiv’s heavy contingent won a domestic treble.
Andriy Shevchenko’s men have also benefitted from an additional twelve months of facing elite level national teams; firstly in League A of the Nations League (Spain, Germany) and then in World Cup Qualifying (France).
Taking the above into account, Ukraine should be well placed to battle for top spot in their group against an unpredictable De Boer-led Netherlands, an out of sorts Austria and tournament novices North Macedonia. Ukraine are a realistic shout for tournament dark horses and should not be overlooked in causing an upset.
What would you say are your team’s major strengths?
Ukraine’s main strength will be the power of the team collective. The core players of the squad know each other very well and have been playing together consistently since late 2018. Shevchenko’s philosophy wanting to play on the front foot through quick passing and measured build up has been fully instilled into his group of players.
The midfield trio of Zinchenko, Malinovskyi and Stepanenko are pivotal to Ukraine’s transitional play with reliance shifted away from the once over relied upon wings. As a result of no longer possessing a Shevchenko equivalent type player, their main asset is that they are very much a sum of all their parts.
And any weaknesses?
The biggest question mark going into the tournament is the goalkeeper position. Long term first choice, Andriy Pyatov, lost his place as number one at Shakhtar in 2020. He had a stellar Euro qualifying campaign but is now third choice for the national team as a result of his club form.
Dynamo Kyiv’s Heorhiy Bushchan is looking likely to deputise in goal. However, he is prone to a howler and is very susceptible to crosses, so that is definitely the problem area in the side.
Elsewhere, whilst Ukraine has a very strong XI but replacements, especially for their central midfield trio, leave a lot to be desired.
Give us the lowdown on your team’s star player?
Ruslan Malinovskyi is the talisman of this Ukraine side. His left foot is synonymous with power and scoring long range screamers. He’s also a very competent passer, be that from set piece deliveries or in quick attacks; assists are part and parcel of his game. His strong build not only compliments his shooting but also allows him to drive forward and shrug off opposition players despite lacking in sheer pace.
Since returning from the March international break, Malinovskyi has more goal contributions than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues for his club Atalanta. He’ll be looking to continue this form into the summer.
And tell us about a player from your team who could be a breakthrough star at this tournament?
The rise of 18-year-old centre back Ilya Zabarnyi over the past nine months has been quite something. Fast-tracked from under 19 football straight into the senior side, the young defender made his first senior start in a Champions League qualifier last year due to an injury crisis at his club Dynamo Kyiv.
A month later, due to a Covid outbreak in the national team, he made his senior Ukraine debut in a friendly against France. He’s remained a starter for both ever since. He’s a disciplined and reliable tackler and is very composed on the ball despite his young age. One to watch.
How far do you think your team can go in this tournament?
This summer’s European Championships will be Ukraine’s third appearance in the competition. On the two previous occasions, the Blue and Yellows have never progressed past the group stages. The minimum expectation, this time around, is to break that unsavoury record.
In the process of doing that, it’s hoped they’ll score some goals as well. Ukraine have scored in just one of their six previous group stage matches with current manager Andriy Shevchenko grabbing a winning brace v Sweden back in 2012.
There is a lot more optimism ahead of 2021’s appearance. Ukraine look like strong contenders for top spot in their group with Shevchenko having honed his adaptive tactics against some of Europe’s top sides over the past two years. Realistically, reaching the quarter-finals should be manageable and with only eight sides (out of 24) going home in the groups making the Round of 16 is an absolute must.
Easy one to finish with, who wins the tournament, and who do you think will be top scorer?
Difficult to look past France. Harry Kane for top scorer.