Despite letting a two goal lead slip in Turkey, Ukraine produced a much better performance and showed that Andriy Shevchenko has began to make a difference in his role as head coach. Up until Turkey scored, Ukraine dominated proceedings in Konya, taking the lead through an Andriy Yarmolenko penalty before he assisted Artem Kravets to double the lead.
Ukraine played a possession game, with much more confidence and crispness than in the game against Iceland. With an aggressive line up, Shevchenko started including Kravets upfront with Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka on the flanks, Viktor Kovalenko and Oleksandr Zinchenko started in central midfield in a sign if intent from Ukraine. The visitors looked dangerous from the off and set about creating chances.
Ukraine got their break half way through the first half when Canir Erkin brought down Artem Kravets in the penalty box. Andriy Yarmolenko’s just about squeezed it past Volvan Babacan and Ukraine had the lead. Minutes later, Yarmolenko controlled Andriy Pyatov’s long ball forward and passed to Kravets who made no mistake to double Ukraine’s lead. The blue-yellows dominated possession and Kravets should have added a third but blazed over from six yards when he could have put the game beyond Turkey. The hosts rarely threatened until the end of the first half when Emre Mor had a penalty appeal waved away. The young winger was looking lively but Taras Stepanenko made his mark on the little youngster with a very strong but fair tackle, which upset the Dortmund winger. In stoppage time, Ukraine switched off at a Turkey set-piece, leaving Ozar Tafun totally unmarked to head home to bring Turkey right back in it on half time.
Shevchenko brought Serhiy Sydorchuk on for Zinchenko at half time, to try and tighten things up but it was Ukraine again who started the brighter. Zbirna carved out more opportunities and Kravets once again came closest with an effort tipped onto the bar by Babacan when he really should have scored. Sydorchuk and Sobol also forced good saves out of Babacan as Ukraine searched for the third goal, rather than resting on the lead they had.
Turkey however once again grew into the half and very nearly equalised when Cenk Tosun broke through and smashed against the post. Ukraine then began to look a little more ragged and less in control. Turkey continued to threaten and Ukraine began commiting silly fouls, picking up yellow cards and giving the Turks an opportunity to get the ball in the box. Ukraine were less than convincing in dealing with such opportunities and it eventually proved costly when Taras Stepanenko was adjudge to have fouled in the box and gave away a penalty. It was harsh on Stepanenko as there was clearly pulling on hi shirt and on another day he would have won the free kick. Hakan Calhanoglu made no mistake from the spot and Turkey had pulled it back.
After the game Shevchenko commented on his pleasure of the first half performance and the amount of chances created, but lambasted the goal conceded in first half stoppage time – “I’m happy with the first half because we didn’t let our opponents create chances, we even created many chances of our own. We lost concentration at the end of the half and this has cost us“. The former Ballon D’Or winner was also disappointed with the penalty that Turkey awrded complaining that it was soft.
Despite losing the lead, it really was an improve performance from Ukraine, and aside from the final 15 minutes when the blue-yellows became a little ragged, it was probably Ukraine’s best performance since they beat France 2:0 in the first leg of the 2014 World Cup Qualifying Play-Off in November 2013. Shevchenko has reintroduced an intensity and an aggressive mentality that was missing in the Euro 2016 qualifying and finals campaign, in an impressive turn around for only his second game. There was also a noticeable difference in the style of play, with Ukraine looking to make more of quick short passing and launching more attacks. If Ukraine would have held on, it would have been a very memorable night for all fans of Ukraine. At the end Shevchenko himself drew on the positives – “We played against a strong opposition away from home. I’m happy with the performance an the result. In a group that will be full or surprises, this could be a good point for us“.
It is however, another case of two points dropped, just as against Iceland, which means Ukraine only sit on two points, when it could easily have been six. The loss of these four points may well be crucial at the end of the campaign. Shevchenko said before the game he was thinking of nothing other than six points from this double header, he now needs a big win against Kosovo on Sunday evening, in Krakow.
Article by Petro Chymera, Vice-President of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and Co-founder of Donetsk Way and the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame. Follow Petro on twitter – @PMChymera89 & @DonetskWay2012