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Ukraine Euro 2020 preview: Key players, strengths, weaknesses and expectations

There is reason for great optimism in Ukraine heading…

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There is reason for great optimism in Ukraine heading into this summer’s European Championship.

Andriy Shevchenko’s men surprised nearly everyone with their fantastic qualification campaign, in which they topped Group B to secure their place at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament.

And, in a group alongside the Netherlands, North Macedonia and Austria, the nation should be hopeful of progressing through to the knockouts. So, in what could be a joyful summer for Ukraine, let’s preview their Euro 2020.

The Yellow and Blues pipped reigning champions Portugal to top spot in qualifying Group B, collecting four points off Fernando Santos’ men, claiming a 0-0 draw away and a 2-1 victory at home. Ukraine also took four points off Serbia and did the double over Luxembourg and Lithuania to conclude their qualification process undefeated and three points clear of second-placed Portugal.

Their form hasn’t been spectacular since, however. Shevchenko’s side finished bottom of their Nations League group, winning two and losing four in the process. In their last 13 across all competitions, Ukraine have won just four, drawn four and lost five – including a 7-1 trouncing at the hands of France in October 2020 (although their squad was somewhat depleted by COVID-19).

Despite rocky from since, they certainly showed a good defensive character throughout the Euro 2020 qualification process. In the eight matches, Ukraine conceded just four goals – only Turkey and Belgium shipped fewer (3).

And they have their creative sparks, too. Andriy Yarmolenko has been a longstanding talismanic presence in the Ukraine setup and will be heading to his second European Championship. The West Ham man is second on his nation’s all-time scoring list (behind only manager Shevchenko) with a whopping 40 strikes in 94 caps from midfield.

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Andriy Yarmolenko is the most capped outfield player in the Ukraine squad / SERGEI SUPINSKY/Getty Images

Oleksandr Zinchenko will arguably be his country’s main threat throughout the tournament. We all know the season the Manchester City man has had. Despite Champions League heartbreak, Zinchenko has had a brilliant campaign for the Cityzens and will look to replicate his all-round brilliance on the international scene this summer.

Shevchenko’s side have found it tough to see competitive games over the line in recent times. Despite two wins (although, these were against Cyprus and Northern Ireland) in preparation for Euro 2020, Ukraine had previously registered two losses and four draws – including sharing the points with France, Finland and Kazakhstan to kick off their World Cup qualifying group.

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A disappointing draw with Finland in World Cup qualification / SERGEI SUPINSKY/Getty Images

Part of the problem could be the lack of a real, decisive goal threat. The three options at the top of the pitch within the squad have a combined ten goals for their country and, although favourite to start Roman Yaremchuk averages one in three for Ukraine, this lack of presence on a big stage will do them no favours.

There is a very exciting prospect that will likely have a part to play throughout Ukraine’s run in the tournament in the shape of 18-year old Illya Zabarnyi. The Dynamo Kiev central defender has completed eight full 90 minutes in the 12 matches since his debut back in October 2020 and is very highly thought of in Ukraine.

Illia Zabarnyi

Illya Zabarnyi in action for Dynamo Kiev / BSR Agency/Getty Images

Another player to look out for is Artem Dovbyk. The 23-year old striker has so far failed to find the back of the net in his two caps but he turns 24 on the day that Ukraine conclude their group stage against Austria – it feels as though there could be a story here…

Goalkeepers: Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Heorhiy Buschan (Dynamo Kyiv), Anatoliy Trubin (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Defenders: Mykola Matviyenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Oleksandr Karavayev (Dynamo Kyiv), Serhiy Kryvtsov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Eduard Sobol (Club Brugge), Vitaliy Mykolenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Ilya Zabarnyi (Dynamo Kyiv), Oleksandr Tymchyk (Dynamo Kyiv), Denys Popov (Dynamo Kyiv)

Midfielders: Andriy Yarmolenko (West Ham), Taras Stepanenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Man City), Ruslan Malinovskyi (Atalanta), Serhiy Sydorchuk (Dynamo Kyiv), Viktor Tsyhankov (Dynamo Kyiv), Roman Bezus (Gent), Marlos (Shakhtar Donetsk), Yevhenii Makarenko (Kortrijk), Mykola Shaparenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Oleksandr Zubkov (Ferencvaros), Heorhiy Sudakov (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Forwards: Roman Yaremchuk (Gent), Artem Besyedin (Dynamo Kyiv), Artem Dovbyk (Dnipro-1)

You can check out every confirmed Euro 2020 squad here.

As usual with Ukraine, there is a lot of potential. They have promising and capable defensive quality while also possessing creative threats in the middle of the field. And, although they may lack cutting edge at the business end of the pitch, the Yellow and Blues’ fans have reason to be hopeful.

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Andriy Shevchenko has a good squad at his disposal / SERGEI SUPINSKY/Getty Images

A result in their opening fixture against Group C favourites Netherlands could be the catalyst for a decent summer for Shevchenko’s men but, while there is always promise, they’re just surely not good enough to challenge Europe’s big boys. It feels like the last 16 is as good as they can hope for.

Source: 90 Mins

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