Ukraine travel to Luxembourg on Match Day Four of Euro 2016 Qualifying, after two consecutive wins (2:0 at Belarus & 1:0 in Lviv against Macedonia) propelled the Blue-Yellows back into contention in Group C.
The change in format for Euro 2016 has increased the interest in the qualifying campaign and Slovakia have been feeling the benefits of the slow starts from Ukraine and European Champions Spain. Slovakia have defeated both Ukraine (in Kyiv) and Spain (in Bratislava) to lead the way with a 100% record after three games, while Ukraine and Spain both have two wins from three.
Despite recording two wins, Ukraine have been anything but convincing in the campaign so far. It was a negative performance against Belarus, which was destined for a 0:0 draw until Aleksandr Martynovych unwittingly put into his own net and Serhiy Sydorchuk ended a swift counter-attack in stoppage time, earning the points for Ukraine, while Macedonia missed more than their fair share of chances to take a points at Arena Lviv on match day three, with Serhiy Sydorchuk again providing the lethal touch for Zbirna Ukraina.
Luxembourg suffered a heavy 4:0 reverse at home to Spain on Match Day Three, but earned a point at home against Belarus (1:1) and were very unlucky to come away empty handed from Macedonia (3:2) as a late Besart Abdurahimi goal denied them a point. Ukraine will have to make sure they are on guard against Luxembourg. Despite being ranked a lowely 126 from 208, Luxembourg have won at least one game in every qualifying campaign since World Cup 2006 qualifying and are a different proposition from the likes of San Marino, who Ukraine recorded record victories on World Cup 2014 Qualifying. Any complacency will be capitalised upon and will prove costly for Ukraine. Luxembourg will once again be without their star player, forward Aurelian Joachim (CSKA Sofiya) who has missed the enitre campaign so far.
Ukraine will be expecting to take the three points in Luxembourg ahead of a vital trip to Spain in March, which will go a long way to determining the outcome of the Group C qualifiers. FC Dnipro full back Artem Fedetskyy ruled out the possibility of him and his Ukraine team mates taking their opponents lightly – “We nearly dropped points again Belarus and Macedonia, to be complacent against Luxembourg would be a disaster. The most important thing is victory. There are no easy games today and we will be working hard and maintain to ensure we earn three points.”
Myhaylo Fomenko himself ruled out an easy tie against Luxembourg, pointing to their performances against Belarus and Macedonia as evidence that this will be no walk in the park for Ukraine. The former Dynamo Kyiv manager pointed to the number of Luxembourg players who have experience in European leagues as a reminder to Ukraine’s players and fans alike that this will be no easy game. Fomenko also pointed out Luxembourgs strengths in defence, at set-pieces and on the counter attack. However the Ukraine coach is confident he will suitably prepare his side and lead them to victory.
Mykhaylo Fomenko’s men are however, blighted by injury. Andriy Pyatov, Taras Stepanenko, Oleksandr Kucher, Roman Zozulya and long term injury Denys Garmash are all first team players who will miss the game while Artem Kravets and Edmar have also been ruled out. Yevhen Khacheridi, Yaroslav Rakitskyi and Denys Oliynik have also been struggling for fitness but will hopefully be fit.
Following the injury crises for Ukraine, Kyrylo Kovalchuk has been called up to replace Taras Stepanenko while Roman Bezus has replaced Edmar and Mukyta Bandura is in for Andriy Pyatov. Bandura’s Zorya Luhansk team mates Vitaliy Vernydub and Andriy Pulyavskyi have both earned their first call ups for Ukraine aswell.
Ukraine have been struggling for goals in qualifying, Serhiy Sydorchuk is the only Ukrainian to have scored in the three games so far. Fomenko’s favoured striker Roman Zozulya, who hasn’t scored for Ukraine since the home leg of the World Cup Play-off against France on November 15 2013, exactly one year to the day before the Luxembourg tie, has been ruled out injured and his club mate Yevhen Seleznyov has not been called upon. Dynamo Kyiv’s Ukrainian Premier League top goal scorer Artem Kravets was initially called upto the squad but suffered a head injury against Karpaty on Sunday which has ruled him out of the tie. This means attentions will likely turn to Zorya Luhansk forward Pylyp Budkivskyi. Budkivskyi is the all time record goal scorer for Ukraine Under 21’s and made his debut for the senior national side as a substitute against Belarus and followed this up with another substitute appearance against Macedonia. Budkivksyi has led the line in a fantastic start to the season for Zorya and he is hoping that he will earn his first start for Zbirna Ukraina and with it his first goal(s) against Luxembourg.
Former Dynamo Kyiv player and manager Leonid Buriak pointed out that despite Zozulya’s efforts in recent years, Ukraine have still not got a player to match the quality of Andriy Shevchenko. Thus Budkivskyi has large footsteps to follow. Currently the major threats for Ukraine come from Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. Konoplyanka has not hit his major heights since returning from injury for Dnipro, while Yarmolenko has been in fine form for Dynamo yet hasn’t managed to convert this to form for the national team an even missed a penalty in the win against Macedonia.
Rumours were circulating before the game that due to the forwards crises, Hajduk Split and ex-Dynamo man Artem Milevksyi would be recalled to the squad. However this did not materialise as Milevskyi himself declared he was not ready to rejoin Ukraine, despite an upturn in form for Hajduk and a return for Ukraine being his ultimate goal. Another forward who Fomenko ruled out this time was Olexandr Gladkyi. The Shakhtar forward has been in amongst the goals this season but has been unable to fully convince Fomenko or Shakhtar boss Mircea Lucescu that he can perform consistently at the top level.
Denys Boyko will most likely be taking the number one jersey following Andriy Pyatov’s withdrawal from the squad in what will likely be the Dnipro stopper ‘s first competitive game for Ukraine. Ahead of him it may be an inexperienced back four if Yevhen Khacheridi and Yaroslav Rakitskyi fail to prove their fitness. Shakhtar’s Ivan Ordets will be hoping to capitalise on any injuries and earn his stripes as Ukraine’s first choice centre back.
Serhiy Sudorchuk has been Ukraine’s outstanding player in the campaign so far. He made his debut coming on in place of the ageing Edmar against Belarus and started against Macedonia, scoring in both games. He will likely maintain his starting place and recently commented on the need for a swift start to the game which was lacking in all three of Ukraine’s qualifiers so far.
Ukraine will be fully expected to take the three points in Luxembourg and maintain the pressure on Slovakia and Spain at the top of Group C. The Blue-Yellows will also be able to call upon a strong support at the Stade Josy Barthel with many members of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and UASupportersDE travelling to the game.
Match Day Four –
Luxembourg : Ukraine
Macedonia : Slovakia
Spain : Belarus
Ukraine will also take on Lithuania in an international friendly on Tuesday 18th November, 2014 at the NSC Olympiyskyi in Kyiv.
Article 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