Before Ukraine’s play off match against Scotland the expectation was the lack of match sharpness by so many of their squad (the Ukraine league is suspended) would take its toll and they would come unstuck and Scotland would win. Afterall the last competitive game Scotland played was a 2-0 win over Denmark, Scotland were a team on the up after that victory which was their 6th in a row. Heady times for Scotland fans.
After 20 minutes in Hampden Park that theory had gone right out the window. Ukraine were slicker, quicker and smarter than Scotland all over the pitch. By half time Ukraine had a one nil lead thanks to Andriy Yarmolenko and in truth they could have been 3-0 up. They eventually went onto win 3-1 and there was a nervy period where Scotland could have had an undeserved equaliser. But in the end the better team won. Next up for Ukraine is the final against Wales on Sunday for a place at the World Cup. What a lift it would give their nation if they could achieve that. And if they play like they did on Wednesday they will succeed.
Three days after the final on Wednesday, 8th June Ireland will host the Ukraine and let’s be honest no matter what the result is on Sunday this game will not be taken very seriously by Ukraine. Ireland can definitely take advantage of that. Stephen Kenny will be expecting to open up with a win away to Armenia and playing an elated or deflated Ukraine won’t make much difference as manager Oleksandr Petrakov will have to rest his first team.
While Ireland’s record under Kenny at home hasn’t been great if you fancy a bet then back Ireland to win. And at LeoVegas Sportsbook, you’ll be able to find a great source of information of which bookmaker to choose.
Kenny has improved the midfield and forward positions, but in defence Ireland are very strong with keeper Gavin Bazunu in fantastic form and in front of him Shane Duffy and John Egan are excellent and with either Nathan Collins or Dara O’Shea to be chosen alongside them it will be an area where the Irish can contain Ukraine attacks. In the game against Scotland defensively they looked weak, in particular goal keeper Georgiy Bushchan. I expect Ireland to soak up some pressure and take advantage of any defensive lapses.
A look at Ukraine
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 1 World Cup and 3 Euros (once as co host during 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.
Historically both teams level is 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.
Manager: The new manager Oleksandr Petrakov who previously worked with Dynamo Kyiv and most recently had worked with 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 teams. Historically Ukraine underage teams have been very strong but unlike other countries this hasn’t translated into the senior team. And with the war it has been even more difficult but his training camps prior to playing Scotland must have really worked as they were excellent in that match.
Squad: A solid group with a lot of the players playing in the Ukraine league with the two biggest clubs Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv. Unfortunately the domestic league has been cancelled due to the war. 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. He is still a highly talented player.
Words Carl McMahon