UKRAINE: The reemergence of the national team


On 7 June, the Montenegro national team suffered their biggest ever home defeat in the official matches. In fact, the Montenegro FA still can’t get over the above ‘record’; no Ukrainian user of internet can access their official site following Ukraine’s demolishing job in Podgorica (403: Access Forbidden Your country (UA) has been blacklisted).

After Oleg Blokhin’s controversial departure from the national team to take charge of Dynamo Kyiv, worrying rumours linking Sven Goran Eriksson with Ukraine job and two disappointing results in Moldova (0-0) and at home versus Montenegro (0-1), every game for Ukraine was a matter of ‘Make it or break it’. A a lot of people in Ukraine (and abroad) had already written the team off  in the current World Cup qualifying campaign prior to Mykhaylo Fomenko’s appointment in December, but Valeriy Lobanovskiy’s first pupil went on to prove many skeptics wrong. The match-up in Montenegro has been the most impressive demonstration of Ukraine going from strength to strength under Fomenko.

The early stages of the game saw both teams having chances to take the lead, as was the case with Mirko Vucinic and Andriy Yarmolenko. The former hit the post after being put through on goal by Jovetic, and the latter missed the target from close range after receiving a neat pass from Dnipro’s Roman Zozulya. The first half of the match saw an end-to-end game with Ukraine dominating proceedings in the early and late stages of the first half. The most debatable moment of the first half and probably the entire match happened on 45+1 minutes, when Ukraine’s Zozulya was sent off for elbowing his opponent. As for the above episode, one should also highlight Bozovic’s play-acting skills.

On paper, the second half did not promise anything good for Ukraine, but the team regrouped to give another example explaining the English proverb ‘When the going gets tough, the tough gets going’. ‘We’, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk said after the game, ‘showed our mettle and did the impossible’.  Ukraine started the second half without a single striker employing roughly the same system – a 4-2-3-1, which became a 4-2-3-0 after Zozulya’s sending-off. Konoplyanka, Garmash and Yarmolenko formed a front three. It was the latter two, who orchestrated Ukraine’s opener on 55 minutes: Yarmolenko saw his long range effort parried away by the opposition goalkeeper only for the Dynamo’s box-to-box midfielder to seize on the rebound to make Montenegro’s shot-stopper look like he was informed about the exact date of the end of the world. Ukraine looked compact defensively without allowing Montenegro much freedom upfront, with Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko enjoying more space on their respective flanks as Montenegro were looking for an equaliser. By and large, two events within an 11-minute period put the game beyond Montenegro’s reach: on 66 minutes, Partizan’s Volkov headed for an early shower after receiving his second booking of the match, and on 77 minutes Konoplyanka  planted a right-footed shot into the corner of the net to make it 2-0. On 81 minutes, Pavicevic fouled on Edmar to be booked on the second occasion. On 85 and 90+3 minutes, Ukraine’s Fedetskiy and Bezus completed Ukraine’s romp on the Balkan soil.

As of now, Ukraine have a realistic chances of claiming first place in the group, considering their form as well as their fixture list and that of their main rivals, England and Montenegro. Ukraine managed to turn the tide in their favour with sending an alert message to England before what may be the most crucial game in Group H.


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