Just over 1400 miles separates Manchester and Lviv, but no matter what, it wasn’t an option to miss watching Ukraine’s first leg of the Euro 2016 Play-Off match against Slovenia on Saturday night. With the 4 of us together in Manchester for the Dzidzio gig, we had agreed to meet up at the Ukrainian club in Manchester to watch the match together before the gig. However, with kick-off at 1700, and the gig due to start at 1800, there was never any doubt in which one we would go and watch. Rumours did fly that Dzidzio said he wanted people to watch the match and agreed to start his gig after the match.
A poorly organised showing of the football (most people there I don’t think even knew Ukraine were even playing), meant that it was up to Dre and Petro, who had brought their own laptops and projectors, to get a live feed of the game. Petro was set up in the bar to a handful of people, whilst Andriy was setting up his projector in the function room.
Pre-match nerves were getting the better of us all, but the handful of us that were there managed to put the nerves to one side as we all hand hand on hearts and sang the national anthem. This was it! Game on!
Due to the unreliability of Petro’s Ukrainian feed, we opted to go into the other room to watch it on the projector. Although there was no sound at this point, it was suggested that this was Stepan’s big opportunity to make his commentating debut (Give Viktor Vatsko a run for his money), but forgot his microphone in the car. Unable to resolve the sound situation, somebody had managed to get brain in gear and find the match on Ukrainian TV, and so we once again moved over into the bar.
Now fully focused on the match, Ukraine appeared to settle into their stride, but true to form it was still a nervy watch. We were given a little bit of breathing space when in the 22nd minute Andriy Yarmolenko, picked the ball up in the area from a weak punch from the Slovenian goalkeeper. At this point we were all screaming SHOOT!!!!!
However, Yarmolenko had other ideas and kept a cool head, feigned to shoot taking 3 Slovenian defenders out of the game, and unleashing a right footed shot which saw the far end of the goal ripple sending Arena Lviv and Manchester Ukrainian Club into raptures!!
The 5 minutes that followed the goal was a Ukraine we have seen all far too often and it appeared that the defence had switched off and raised the question of have Ukraine possibly scored too early? The mini storm was weathered which really came from Ukraine making mistakes rather than Slovenia creating anything dangerous, but was enough to raise our stress levels again.
As the half went on, more and more Ukrainians arrived (probably thinking its Dzidzio time) but as the football was on, they stayed put and saw the remaining few minutes of the first half. At half time, it’s fair to say Ukraine were in control of the match, but cool heads would need to be kept for the second half as the first saw 2 players (Khacheridi and Sleznyov) booked for fouls that did not have to be made, with a few other players running a thin line to a booking.
Half time analysis done, the teams re-emerged onto the pitch ready for an important 45 minutes for both countries. It took just 9 minutes for Ukraine to double their lead, and on 53 minutes and 51 seconds Evhen Seleznyov was the man to do so.
Andriy Yarmolenko’s pass found the over-lapping Artem Fedetskiy who’s pass from the right hand side across the 6 yard line evaded the Slovenian defence and goalkeeper, leaving the sliding Seleznyov to tap the ball into an open net.
On getting up to celebrate there was a quick look to the linesman, but the flag that Slovenians would have been praying for never came. (On seeing replays, the correct decision was made and Seleznyov was not in an offside position).
Now looking more in control than ever, Ukraine created more chances with Denys Garmash having a great chance to seal the match off, but to be denied by the busy man between the sticks for Slovenia, seeing his header brilliantly saved.
Seleznyov was next to be denied, however, it was the post that denied him his second goal of the match.the Slovenian defence cleared the ball to safety, and the thoughts from Petro on this attach was that “Yarmolenko was not in the correct position, and didn’t anticipate the ball properly”.
As the minutes dropped off, stress levels were again given a boost thanks to the continued lapses in concentration and poor defending in Ukraine’s ranks. Slovenia saw their best spell of the match in the final 20 minutes of the match, but failed to create anything dangerous, as Pyatov was kept spectator until the final whistle.
What looked like a comfortable victory for Ukraine, it was still a difficult watch. Ukraine by far showed the extra class over their opponents who failed to create any significant attacks on goal, the best of their opportunities coming from Ukrainian mistakes, however, although Slovenia may not be the same level of opponent as France, Ukraine have previously taken a 2-0 lead into the second leg of a play-off match, and seen it squandered.
Slovenian press have written their team off, as Ukraine hold the advantage for Tuesday nights second leg in Maribor, and look to shake off their hoodoo of play-off fears!
Football over, it was time to enjoy a Dzidzio concert in a celebratory mood. Another artist ticked off the bucket list! We danced to the Euro Pop for an hour and a half or so, before getting a Donetsk Way photo with the man himself, before calling it a night at 21:30.
Good night, and see you in Maribor!!!
Article by Styopa Luczka, President of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and co-founder of DonetskWay. Follow Styop on Twitter @SLuczka & @DonetskWay2012