So it has been another trip to support Zbirna Ukraina which ultimately led to a disappointing result against European Champions Spain. Going into the game knowing a win would guarantee automatic qualification for Euro 2016, we were confident that Zbirna could pull off something of a shock to fulfil a dream and book the ticket to Paris. Alas it was not to be, but Ukraina can still qualify via the play-offs, which may well be a date for our next trip.
It was just me (Petro) & Andriy who made the trip from our usual group, but we did have the company of Marko with us as we made up a band of musketeers on the road to Kyiv. After enjoying a Ruslana gig on Friday evening, it was an early morning flight to Kyiv which has been largely forgotten.
Arriving in Kyiv on Saturday, we entertained ourselves with a feast in Puzata Hata before an evening entertainment at Stereo Plaza for the festival “Тільки Свої” featuring bands such as “The Вйо”, “Мотор’ролла” and the headliners “Воплі Відоплясова”, who gained a big new fan in Marko. Sunday was another day of entertainment, beginning by picking up the match tickets, a visit to a few shops and naturally, some bars. These included some bars we have never visited in Kyiv before, including the Speakeasy bar which had a very unusual playlist on in the background! Needless to say the party continued into the morning, despite Kyiv being pretty quiet.
Onto match day and it was an early start to get some more (or not as it turned out) shopping done. While having lunch, a friend of a friend (Oleh) got in touch inviting us on a tour of the FFU building, naturally me and Andriy could not refuse this offer and headed straight across to the House of Football. A look at Ukraina’s various achievements through all of the different national teams and a tour of the conference centre gave a good view of the back stage running of the FFU. We now have ambitions of running the FFU or managing Zbirna Ukraina, after taking our places in the hot seats of power. This then led to our first Vlog, previewing the game between Ukraina and Spain. Needless to say, our optimism and predictions were misplaced and wrong. But that’ll happen again, so don’t worry about us.
After this it was game time. We headed back to the hostel to change and pick up the tickets for the game. We had arranged to meet Oleh and a few more friends at a pub near the ground, for some food and some pre-match drinks. Unlike my previous visit to Kyiv for a qualifier in this campaign (the 1:0 defeat to Slovakia which began the campaign), Kyiv seemed to be rocking and there was definitely a buzz around the place and a good atmosphere in the pub. Viktor, a friend from previous trips joined us as did some other friends as we caught up and predicted how Ukraina would win and qualify for Euro 2016.
Onto the game and it was a mad crush outside the NSC Olympiyskyi as thousands of fans were trying to cram into the stadium and not enough turnstiles to allow easy access. It was a case of every man for themselves as we raced into the stadium just in time for the anthem and then kick off, although I don’t think Andriy or Marko had the same fortune.
The game began and the atmosphere was impressive. We sat in the Ultras corner and joined in the large vocal support of the side. Ukraina began impressively as they looked for the early break through. The chance was nearly there, Kravets, starting ahead of Seleznyov with good work on the left flank cut inside to fire across the box, Ruslan Rotan could only manage a faint touch but if he had made full contact Ukraina would have been ahead and on their way to France. Ukraina continued their early pressure as David De Gae made saves from Kravets and Rotan, but on 20 minutes disaster struck as Spain worked through the Ukraina defence and a cross allowed Mario Gaspar to head home unmarked at the far post. The goal stunned the crowd and the energy seemed sapped. Disaster was nearly turned into a full on catastrophe only two minutes later as Oleksandr Kucher took down Cesc Fabregas in the box, giving the referee no option but to point to the spot. However, Andriy Pyatov was more than equal to Fabregas, he wasn’t intimidated by the stutter in Fabregas’ run up and produced a fantastic one handed save to keep Ukraina in the tie and rejuvenate the crowd.
Ukraine continued to push forward creating chances. Zbirna should have been level on a couple of minutes later as Denys Garmash had a header to an open goal, but under pressure from Azpilicueta he couldn’t convert a simple chance.
Through the second half Ukraina continued to make chances, Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko both forcing saves from De Gae who was in unbelievable form for the Spaniards. He produced a fantastic reflex save from Denys Garmash to sum up the day. It was one of those days that Ukraina would simply not score. More chances followed for Ukraina but the Spanish net was in safe hands. Once again Fomenko made his changes much too late in the game to have any meaningful effect on the outcome and pressure is growing on him as he isn’t showing the creativity and ambition that Ukraina need. The introduction of debutant Oleksandr Zinchenko was bizarre and only adds further questions to what Fomenko is doing. This isn’t a slight against Zinchenko as a player as he no doubt has potential and may go on to become a star. But needing two goals and leaving the substitution to the final minutes, then throwing on a youth player who has not even trained with the senior squad raises some serious questions over Fomenko. This needs to be looked into further.
Regardless, Ukraina could not find the net and were left wondering what might have been. It is now to the play-offs that we head where we will face one of Denmark, Republic of Ireland, Hungary or Slovenia for a place in the Euro’s.
After the game, we waited at the stadium for the crowds to disperse before heading onto a few more bars for drinks and food discussing the game and the future. There is always a party in Kyiv.
Despite another disappointing result, it was a great trip to Kyiv to support our Zbirna. We now await the draw for the play-offs to decide who we face in the deciding game ahead of the Euros and to see if we can squeeze in another trip to support Ukraine.
Until next time.
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 & @DonetskWay2012