After the pretty much perfect international week, can Ukraina make it to Rio?
Ukraine headed into the recent international week in a state of desperation, but have come away with heads held high and optimism renewed.
A fantastic win away from home at neighbours Poland was followed up with a hard fought victory in Odesa against Moldova. This has put Ukraine in with a realistic opportunity to catch up and compete with group leaders Montenegro and England. The question is can Ukraine turn this opportunity into reality?
The optimists among us will be confident that Ukraine can get the results they require and qualify for Brazil. Realistically, in my opinion, Ukraine must win every remaining game.
This quest begins with a trip to the hostile environment in Podgorica, Montenegro. Montenegro won the reverse fixture in Kyiv which put Ukraine in the precarious position they occupied prior to this week’s fixtures. This will be a very difficult place for Ukraine to go and win, as England found out. The atmosphere in Podgorica was intense and the question will be whether the locals will be as motivated for the visit of Ukraine. It is a game that Ukraine have the quality to win, if they can make a fast start and score early, as they did in Warsaw, Ukraine have every chance of pulling off the victory required, but any failure to do so and missing opportunities, Ukraine could slip up and this would likely be the end of any hope of automatic qualification. This is a vital game for this, and is likely to be key for Ukraine’s chances of qualification.
This is followed up with a much needed shooting practice session against San Marino.
If Ukraine successfully navigate Montenegro then England return to Ukraine. In 2009, with Ukraine needing a win they defeated England in Dnipropetrovsk so this is a game where Ukraine may fancy their chances. The heartache at Euro2012 with the un-allowed Devic ‘goal’ and the further pain with Frank Lampards late equaliser at Wembley, this will be a game that Ukraine will not need much further motivation for. It is likely that the pressure will be high on both sides with it being a key game for each. England have not performed to the expected level so far, and as of yet have not beaten any of the ‘main’ competitors in the group so could be there for the taking. However, England are still a quality side and will no doubt pose a threat to Ukraine. They will expect to qualify and this game could be the key. They won in Ukraine in the Euros and will want to use this experience; big game players such as Steven Gerrard (who is facing his last chance to perform at the World Cup) will be key and will be threats for Ukraine.
If Ukraine are still in with a shout after these games, they have done exceptionally well and will then face Poland. After dispatching the Poles in Warsaw, Ukraine will expect a win over their Euro 2012 co-hosts. It will be by no means an easy game, but with it being touted for Lviv, the atmosphere will be hot and the fans full of passion and who would bet against Ukraine in a city they have never lost in.
Ukraine then finish with San Marino, so if anything is in their hands at this stage then success is almost assured!
A key factor which helps Ukraine as well is that all the other key competitors still play each other as well, so a slip up may not be as costly as initially feared, if the other contenders also drop points.
To win the group, a 100% record until the end in my opinion is required, given the set of tough fixtures which awaits Ukraine, will take something special, although not impossible.
A more realistic ambition will be to win 4 with a draw against a Montenegro or England and should be good enough to achieve 2nd position. It may even be good enough to win the group dependent on how other results go.
The downside of this is Ukraine have never won in the play-offs. Croatia, Slovenia, Germany and Greece have all broken Ukrainian hearts at the play-off stage, but could 2013 be the year when this changes?
By Peter Chymera, Vice-President of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and Co-founder of the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame. Follow Peter on twitter – @PMChymera89