It is almost a year to the day since I was sat outside a friends house in Kyiv, writing (ranting) about how frustrated I was after Ukraina’s home defeat to Slovakia which opened the Euro 2016 Qualifying campaign. Fast forward twelve months and I’m in the same boat, albeit not in Kyiv but ranting about the performance.
After the slow start to the group with defeats to Slovakia at home and away in Spain, Ukraina had recovered somewhat, winning all their other games and getting into a position where their fate was in their own hands. The game against Slovakia was a crunch game, showing if Ukraina had the metal to qualify automatically or if they would once again be forced into the play-offs.
It turned out to be the latter as Ukraina were unable to defeat Slovakia and the game turned into a lacklustre 0:0 draw. Ukraina failed to make chances as they lacked the creativity to break down the resolute Slovakians, who were more than happy to be on the back foot to try and catch out Ukraina on the counter attack. Yevhen Konoplyanka had Ukraina’s best chance in the first half, cutting inside from the left wing only for his shot to just beat the far post and go wide. While Marik Hamsik forced a wonder save out of Andriy Pyatov at the other end, these two being the only notible chances in the first half.
The second half again was not a fluent affair, with neither side taking control of the game. Artem Kravets had Ukraina’s best chance but he could not get the ball out from his feet and his strike was well wide after meandering into a good position.
Knowing that a 0:0 would have Slovakia on the verge of qualification, they were happy to be avoid taking risks and settle for a point, with chances to seal qualification coming up against Belarus at home and Luxembourg away, anything other than six points and automatic qualification for Slovakia, would be a big surprise.
Ukraina and Mykhaylo Fomenko however, knew this situation and knew that only a win would serve Ukraina with a chance to qualify in the top two. Watching the game, you may not have been able to tell. Ukraina’s tactics appeared to depend on Yevhen Konoplyanka or Andriy Yarmolenko having a moment of magic rather than a clear tactical plan to break down Slovakia. This was summed up in Fomenko’s post match comments as he blamed a lack of luck for Ukraina’s failure and named fatigue a factor behind not being able to break down Slovakia. Slovakia managed to rest a few players in the defeat against Spain and had more out suspended, but these excuses show a clear lack of tactical ambition from Fomenko, particularly considering he only made one substitution in stoppage time, yet blamed freshness as a reason for not winning the game.
Fomenko said he didn’t make the changes because he didn’t have faith that those on the bench would be able to change the game and had faith that those on the pitch would be able muster up some magic. It was clear to see that Ukraina were lacking a spark and needed to change something, but Fomenko did nothing. As the game went on this became more obvious that Ukraina were lacking impetus or pace or willing to try something different. Yet Fomenko still did nothing. Fomenko was not prepared to take a risk and was more concerned about losing than he was with winning the game. This lack of action is costly and strengthens the case against Fomenko’s leadership, particularly with rumours his contract will not be renewed and a possible move for a new manager such as Andriy Shevchenko in the pipeline.
Ukraina have now more than likely missed out on an automatic qualification spot meaning that they must rely on the chance of a the best third place (which is going to be difficult) or a return to the dreaded play-offs. With two games to play, Ukraina need six points and hope that results in other groups are favourable to ensure the best third place.
It is disappointing to be in this situation at this point, given that there was a chance to to get through and Fomenko didn’t go gung ho to try and realise this ambition.
Article by Petro Chymera, Vice-President of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and co-founder of the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame. Follow Petro on twitter – @PMChymera89