A horrible history of Ukraine and the Play-Offs

A dejected Andriy Yarmolenko after Ukraine lost to France in the 2014 WCQ Play-Offs - Photo: BRYN LENNON/GETTY
A dejected Andriy Yarmolenko after Ukraine lost to France in the 2014 WCQ Play-Offs – Photo: BRYN LENNON/GETTY

Once again Ukraine are on the brink of a major Championships and are faced with the challenge of the Play-Offs.  It is the sixth occasion Ukraine have reached this stage and they have a miserable record as they have lost all 5 of the previous ties.  Ahead of the upcoming game against Slovenia, the side who defeated Zbirna in the Euro 2000 Play-Offs, we take a look at those previous encounters.

World Cup 1998 Qualification Play-Off – Ukraine Vrs Croatia

Ukraine’s first foray into the play-offs came following the 1998 World Cup Qualifying Campaign.  After impressing in a group containing European powerhouses Germany and Portugal, Ukraine came 2nd with only two defeats (away to both aforementioned sides) and qualified for the play-offs where they were drawn against Croatia.

Playing away first in Zagreb, Slaven Bilic gave Croatia a lead early on but Ukraine had chances to equalise and were denied a penalty when Serhiy Rebrov was felled in the box but Alain Sars (referee) waived play-on.  At the start of the second half, Croatia doubled their advantage when Goran Vlaovic fired past Oleksandr Shovkovskyi.  Ukraine later had a goal controversially disallowed by the French referee and will have felt aggrieved to have lost the game 2:0.

In the second leg, Ukraine quickly got back on track as Andriy Shevchenko scored in the 5th to put Ukraine in the lead.  Ukraine then thought they had levelled the scores, but once again they were denied by a controversial refereeing decision.  Another goal was controversially ruled out, this time for an offside decision which replays subsequently proved to be the incorrect decision.  This knocked the stuffing out of Ukraine and Alen Boksic equalised for Croatia, getting an away and sealing the tie.  Heart break for Ukraine in their first play-off outting as the game finished 1:1.

Euro 2000 Qualification Play-Off – Ukraine Vrs Slovenia

Ukraine recovered from their heartbreak of 1998 World Cup Play-Off defeat and immediately returned to the Play-Offs for Euro 2000.  It was a fantastic qualifying campaign for Ukraine as they went unbeaten, but ultimately they were pipped by a point by World Champions France.  They beat Russia to 2nd spot after claiming a point in the last minute at the Luzhniki in the final group game.

In the Play-Offs, Ukraine were drawn against Slovenia.  Playing away first, Ukraine took the lead through Andriy Shevchenko who scored a wonder strike.  Slovenia then equalised through Zlatko Zlatovic.  Dmytro Parfenov then received a second yellow card and an early bath to put Ukraine on the back foot.  Ukraine then conceded a second through a mistake by keeper Olexandr Shovkovskyi which affected the keeper deeeply over the next few months.  Andriy Husin then received a second yellow as Ukraine went down to 9 men, to finish off a disappointing evening in Ljubljana with Slovenia winning 2:1.

The return leg in Kyiv was played in difficult conditions as a blizzard swept over the NSC Olympiyskyi.  Ukraine were awarded a penalty in the 68th minute and Serhiy Rebrov made no mistake to put Ukraine ahead on the night and ahead on aggregate (away goals).  Unfortunately it was not to be for Ukraine, as Miran Pavliv equalised for Slovenia to put them back in front on aggregate leaving Ukraine needing another goal.  Ukraine had a few half chances to equalise but Slovenia defended with all their might and held on for a famous result and disappointment for Ukraine as the tie ended 1:1 on the night, and 3:2 on aggregate in Slovenia’s favour.

World Cup 2002 Qualification Play-Off – Ukraine Vrs Germany

For the third time in succession, Ukraine proved to be second best in qualifying for the South Korea & Japan 2002 World Cup as they finished runners up to neighbours Poland.  In the Play-offs, Ukraine were drawn against the mighty Germany and faced a difficult task from the out set.  The first leg was played in Kyiv and Ukraine took an early lead when Gennadiy Zubov finished off after an Andriy Shevchenko free-kick found its way through the wall and fell in the Shakhtar mans path. Ukraine withheld something of a barrage as Germany piled on the pressure, and the visitors twice hitting the cross bar.  Germany did eventually find the equaliser through inspirational Michael Ballack.  The game in Kyiv finished 1:1, leaving Ukraine hope ahead of a difficult trip to Germany.

The game in Germany was something of a nightmare for Ukraine and it was over as a contest as Germany found themselves 3:0 and cruising within 15minutes with goals through Ballack, Oliver Neuville and Marko Rehmer.  With the game essentially over and Germany heading to the World Cup, Ukraine rolled up their sleeves and tried to regain respect.  It got worse before it got better for Ukraine as Ballack added a fourth.  Andriy Shevchenko saved complete embarrassment for Ukraine as he scored a final minute consolation goal as the game finished 4:1 on the night and 5:2 on aggregate in favour of the Germans, who went on to finish runners up in the World Cup.

World Cup 2010 Qualification Play-Off – Ukraine Vrs Greece

Ukraine’s next meeting with the Play-Offs again came in the World Cup Qualifiers this time ahead of South Africa 2010 (having successfully qualified for the 2006 World Cup).  Ukraine finished behind England in the Group stages, edging out Croatia into the Play-Off spots.  Here, Ukraine were drawn against Greece in a game they were expecting to win.  The first leg was something of a drab affair as both sides were cautious and were not prepared to lose the game in the first leg, with it finishing 0:0.  The game was so dull, it is hard to find the highlights on YouTube.

The decisive game was held at the Donbas Arena with Ukraine hoping to end their Play-off hoodoo.  Ukraine started on the front foot from the off as they took the game to Greece.  Andriy Shevchenko missed a good opportunity to settle Ukraine and give them the lead as he hit his rebounded shout wide.  Dimitrious Salphangidis then gave Greece the lead which then gave them a platform to defend off.  Ukraine tried as they might but they could not get back into the game, squandering several really good opportunities.  Once again, Ukraine failed to qualify through the Play-Offs as Greece held on for a 1:0 victory, leaving Andriy Shevchenko in tears.

World Cup 2014 Qualification Play-Off – Ukraine Vrs France

Ukraine hosted Euro 2012 which meant they were automatic qualifiers but during the 2014 World Cup Campaign they returned to form and finished second in the group behind England, meaning another attempt at qualification through thte play-offs, this time against the French.  Playing at home in the first leg in front of a full NSC Olympiyskyi stadium Ukraine took the game to the French and continued their positive attacking football which had seen Fomenko’s side score more goals in qualifying than in any previous campaign.  After creating plenty of chances in the first half, the breakthrough came in the second period when Roman Zozulya held his nerve in the box to bundle the ball home, much to the delight of the Ukrainian fans, I should know, I was there!  Despite something of a resurgence Andriy Pyatov held off the challenges France had to face and Ukraine continued to probe for goals.  Despite having an earlier claim for a penalty dismissed, Roman Zozulya remained a determined figure and was rewaeded for his hard work in the 81sy minute when he was brought down in the box.  Andriy Yarmolenko took the penalty and crashed the ball home off the cross bar and give Ukraine a 2:0 lead and a great opportunity to go to Paris and finish the job.

The return leg was played at the Stade de France with Ukraine confident the could finish the job.  France immediately came on the offensive against Ukraine to make amends for their poor showing in the first leg.  The French were rewarded  half way through the first half as Andriy Pyatov couldn’t hold on to Frank Ribery’s free kick and Sakho bundled the ball home to half the deficit.  France took encourage meant from this and continued going forward.  Ukraine looked threatening buit Roman Bezus’ claim for a penalty was waived away.  France continued to have the initiative and had the ball in the net again on 30 minutes only for it to be ruled out for offise.  The writing was on the wall for Ukraine and they needed to step up. France got the equaliser only a few minutes later as Karim Benzema bundled home from a few yards out despite being clearly offside.  The French would call it justice as the earlier disallowed goal was incorrectly ruled out.  At the start of the second half Yevhen Khacheridi made Ukraine’s task much more difficult as he received his second yellow for a rash tackle leaving Ukraine to try and salvage something with only 10 men.  To Ukraine’s credit, knowing a crucial away goal would make the favourites again they did apply pressure to the French with Hugo Lloris scrambling on occasions. Unfortunately it was not enough for Ukraine as Sakho got his second goal in the 72nd minute to condemn Ukraine to a fifth play-off defeat.

As the old saying goes – sixth time lucky! Ukraine host Slovenia at Arena Lviv on Saturday 14th November, before the return leg at the Ljudski Vrt in Maribor on November 17th.  We’ll be at the second leg, hoping Ukraine make history and qualify through the play-offs for the first time.

This article was originally posted in November 2013 ahead of the Play-Off against France.  Now it is updated ahead of the Slovenia game.

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

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