A look at Ukraine in the Nations League

The famous quote from the legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly is used a lot. “Some people think football is a matter of life and death, I assure you it’s more serious than that”. A fantastic quote from a brilliant manager. But when you have Russia on the edge of your borders with a possible invasion any day now, quotes like Shankly’s ring very hollow indeed.

So, an upcoming Nations League match between Ireland and the Ukraine isn’t the slightest bit relevant. But one must remain optimistic and assume the chest pumping is just that and the threat passes, and we can all get back to deceiving ourselves again on what Shankly said those many years ago.

Ukraine along with Kosovo are the only teams in Europe Ireland have not played in a competitive match, it’s been a long time coming and is a pity it’s overshadowed by events elsewhere.

With 30 years of tournaments as a country Ukraine has a similar enough record to Ireland (3 World Cups and 3 Euros) to Ukraine’s – WC 1 and Euros 3 (once as host in Euro 2012) but within a shorter time frame. Both countries have progressed to a quarter final.. Ireland in World Cup 90 and Ukraine in Euro 2020 and the 2006 World Cup.

And like Ireland they have lost a lot of play off games to reach a major tournament. Next Month they play Scotland away in the semi-finals for a place at the World Cup in Qatar this year. The winner of that game plays Wales or Austria. Ukraine are 3rd favourites to get to the World Cup and enthusiastic gamblers who play their favourite casinos such as, they might fancy a small punt on Ukraine to make it to another World Cup.

Historically both teams level is had been similar but not so much recently, Ireland has fallen into the 3rd tier of European football while Ukraine is firmly in the 2nd. But as we know under Kenny, Ireland are starting to look a decent team again, so these Nations League games will be a great test of where we stand.

Ukraine were probably fortunate to get as far as the ¼ finals in Euro 2020. In the groups they came from 2-0 down to draw with Holland 2-2, the Dutch really should have won easily. And in the knockout game v Sweden they were the weaker team, Sweden had a man sent off late on which Ukraine took advantage of. England beat them very comfortably 4-0 for a place in the semi finals.

In World Cup qualifying they were in a weak enough group. World Champions France were expected to easily top the group. Bosnia, Finland and Kazakhstan made up the other 4 teams. Despite drawing twice with France 1-1. Ukraine just about finished second having drawn a lot of games that on paper they would feel they should have won.

Ireland shouldn’t have much to fear playing them in June, if it goes ahead it will be in the wonderful city of Lviv, which is on the western part of the country very close to Poland. Irish fans will have a great away trip here if it goes ahead.

Manager: Previously it was striking legend Andriy Shevchenko who was manager from 2016 to Summer of 2021. The new manager is Oleksandr Petrakov who has worked with Dynamo Kyiv in the past, and more recently has been involved in the Ukraine underage set up before been promoted to the top job. He is an unknown quantity but he would be very familiar with the youth and under 21s. Historically Ukraine underage teams have been very strong but unlike other countries this hasn’t translated into the senior team. Maybe Petrakov will be the man to bridge that gap and take Ukraine into the top tier of European teams.

Squad: A solid group with a lot of players playing in the Ukraine league which by European standards is good. The players mostly play with the two biggest clubs Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv both of whom regularly play in the Champions League. They have a few players across Europe’s top leagues such as Andriy Yarmalenko at West Ham. While at Manchester City Oleksandr Zinchencko would be the most well known to Ireland fans.

Star Player: Ruslan Malinovsky: The Atalanta star player is a creator and tormentor for his club team and scores a decent number of goals as well. Has had a lean 2021 for Ukraine by his high standards without scoring in 13 games, but he is still a highly talented player.

Nations League fixtures

June 04   Ireland vs Ukraine   19:45
June 07   Armenia vs Ireland   17:00
June 11   Ireland vs Scotland  18:00
June 14   Ukraine vs Ireland   17:00
Sept. 23  Scotland vs Ireland  19:45
Sept. 26  Ireland vs Armenia   19:45

Words: Carl McMahon

Written by YBIG 12

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