Ukraine have come away from the latest round of international fixtures with a 1:0 away qualifying defeat to current European Champions Spain and a 1:1 friendly international draw with Latvia in Lviv. The big question to arise from these games is – Where are Ukraine’s goals going to come from?
Ukraine had chances in both games but were not clinical infront of goal which cost them at least a point in Spain and certain victory in the friendly with Latvia. Ukraine created chances from set pieces in particular against Spain but on each occasion they seemingly fell to the wrong player who couldn’t find the right touch. Ruslan Rotan was also guilty of not taking his chances in Seville and this ultimately cost Ukraine. Zbirna lack a striker who commands the goal scoring area and is ready to take responsibility for putting the ball in the back of the net.
Andriy Yarmolenko was the goal scorer against Latvia and he is currently Ukraine’s top goal scorer in the qualifying group with 3 goals, all of which came against Luxembourg, the only other player to score so far in qualifying for Ukraine is Serhiy Sydorchuk.
In qualification for the World Cup 2014, Ukraine hit their record goal tally, with 30 goals from 12 games (admittedly 17 came against San Marino). Andriy Yarmolenko top scored with 5 goals, with Marko Devic second top scorer with 4, there was a good contribution from the rest of the team as well. This goal scoring streak has disappeared in the Euro 2016 qualifiers and it is difficult to see where the goals are coming from, even against weaker opponents.
Roman Zozulya has been Mykhaylo Fomenko’s preferred choice in the striker position but despite his work rate, Zozulya’s goal scoring form has quiet simply not been good enough. He has only scored 3 goals in his international career and non-since the World Cup 2014 Play-Off home 1st leg against France. Question should be raised over Zozulya’s continued selection; however he has suffered a serious injury and may be missing for the remainder of the qualifying campaign regardless, forcing Fomenko to search for alternatives. We wish Roman all the best in his recovery from injury and hope he returns fitter and stronger for club and country. Fomenko admitted after the Latvia game that he would prefer Zozulya to be available but in the mean time he will have to assess his options.
Artem Kravets and Pylyp Budkivskyi were Fomenko’s other striking options in the squad and once Zozulya’s injury struck, Fomenko turned to Kravets to lead the line for the Blue-Yellows. Kravets has been in fine form for Dynamo Kyiv and capitalised on the early season injury to Diemerci Mbokani to become a regular fixture in Serhiy Rebrov’s Dynamo. It awaits to be seen if he can take advantage of Zozulya’s misfortune and become the centre point for Ukraine. Unfortunately for Kravets he didn’t produce the best performances against Spain (and Latvia) and didn’t look like getting into goal scoring positions, not filling the public with much confidence. Admittedly, it would be unfair to judge a player in just 100 minutes of football. Fomenko’s post match comments after the Latvia game echoed this as he stated that once Kravets gets used to the system of Ukraine he will become more useful.
Pylyp Budkivskyi has a fantastic record for Ukraine’s U-21s but has so far found his time with the main squad limited to substitute appearances towards the end of the game. It is fair to say he has not really been given a chance to show what he can do. He has been in good, but not prolific, form for Zorya but he is unproven at the top level and it will be interesting to see if Shakhtar decide to recall the striker at the end of the season to give him a chance or whether he will have to continue his development at another side.
Andriy Yarmolenko continues to be Ukraine’s most potent weapon in front of goal, however he alone cannot be responsible for providing the goals from wide positions. Admittedly throughout the World Cup 2014 qualification campaign Ukraine managed to score goals all over the park and it would be ideal for this sort of form to return but at the moment, this is not happening. Yevhen Konoplyanka is still to reach optimum form after a disruptive 2014 which saw a move to Liverpool collapse and several injuries disrupt his development. Serhiy Sydorchuk has managed to score a couple of goals throughout the campaign and if he and his fellow midfielders can strike up goal scoring form it will help Ukraine significantly.
Fomenko has a few experienced heads he can turn to as he looks to refresh Ukraine’s strike force. Marko Devic has been in the international wilderness since he left Metalist Kharkiv for Russia and the Serbian born striker has now moved to Al-Rayyan in Qatar to try revitalise his fortunes. He is tried and tested by Fomenko and may be called upon if his form and fitness is at a good level. Yevhen Seleznyov and Oleksandr Gladkyi are proven goal scorers however at their club sides they are not first choice strikers and are struggling to assert themselves to Fomenko. If they can get a run of games, they may well be back into Fomenko’s squad. The maverick Artem Milevskyi is pining for fitness and is also hoping to add to his 50 caps for Ukraine, however even when Milevskyi was at his best, he was not a natural goalscorer.
It may be that Fomenko decides to stick with Kravets and give him a chance to prove himself. A real assessment of Pylyp Budkivskyi would provide a fresh option for Fomenko as well and would give the young forward to transfer his under 21 form onto the big stage. Otherwise, Ukraine do not have a depth of goal scoring talent and are a long way from the quality of Andriy Shevchenko.
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