Euro 2016: Lack of a real cutting edge could cost Ukraine

Mykhaylo Fomenko’s side don’t score too many goals but a mean defence will keep them competitive

Having, against all the odds, qualified for Euro 2016, Northern Ireland find themselves in a daunting Group C with Germany, Poland and Ukraine, how will they fare against some of Europe's most feared attackers? Ken Early reports.

Would have been expected to qualify without recourse to the play-offs where, in the end, they beat Slovenia 3-1, but then home defeats by both Spain and Slovakia suggested that Ukraine are not quite the side they have been at times over the last decade or so. They do have a handful of notable players with the standout talent undoubtedly Andriy Yarmolenko, the 26-year-old Dynamo Kiev winger whose strike-rate at international level is now approaching that of the great Andriy Shevchenko. Sevilla's Yevhen Konoplyanka is decent too, although he did not feature in the recent Europea League final success and Artem Kravets finished the season on loan to Stuttgart after a season in which he has again been hit by injury. They didn't score too many goals in qualifying but they only conceded four, half of those against Spain, and that will feed the thought they if they can beat Northern Ireland in Lyon second time out, there might well be something in at least one of the other games for them. If they are held by Michael O'Neill's men, though, this might well be one of the groups that produces two first round casualties.

How they qualified
Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmolenko has an eye for goal, as he showed here against Wales, but has been known to lose his cool.
Yevhen Konoplyanka, a three-time Ukrainian footballer of the year, is now plying his trade with Sevilla.

After reaching their first ever European Championships four years ago (by virtue of the fact that they were joint-hosts with Poland) Ukraine faced a tough task when they were drawn in a qualification group with Spain. Spain topped the group as expected, beating Ukraine 1-0 twice in the process. However, Mykhaylo Fomenko’s side ground out a valuable draw with Slovakia while also beating Belarus, Luxembourg and Macedonia twice to comfortably confirm a play-off place. That play-off pitted them against Slovenia and a 2-0 first leg win in Kiev set them on their way to France before a tense 1-1 draw in Ljubjana sealed their passage.

Manager: Mykhaylo Fomenko

Well travelled Fomenko played for most of his career at Dynamo Kiev as well as earning 24 caps for the Soviet Union. The 67-year-old then enjoyed a fruitful spell managing Kiev in the early 1990s where he led them to a league title, a first Ukrainian cup and a famous win over Barcelona in the Champions League. After spells at Metalist Kharkiv and Tavriya Simferopol among others, he was appointed Ukraine manager in 2012. The new coach had an immediate impact in the World Cup qualifiers as Ukraine beat Poland twice, drew with England and won against Montenegro to secure a play-off place against France. However, they would be narrowly beaten by Les Bleus and miss out on the finals in Brazil. Fomenko continued the good form into the qualifiers for this summer’s tournament and will now lead his country to the finals.

Star man: Andriy Yarmolenko

The Dynamo Kiev winger is a standout quality player, along with Konoplyanka, in a Ukraine squad bereft of any real class. The 26-year-old is known to lose his cool at times, most notably when he got into a brawl with Shaktar Donetsk’s Taras Stepanenko earlier this year, the latest spat between the players after Yarmolenko broke the Shaktar player’s leg in 2013. Yarmolenko was key in Ukraine’s qualification for this summer’s tournament, bagging goals in both legs of the play-off against Slovenia.

One to watch: Yevhen Konoplyanka

The three-time Ukrainian Footballer of the Year played a key part in their qualifying for this year’s tournament. Also a wide man, Konoplyanka helped hometown club Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk to the Europa League final in 2015 before a dream move to Liverpool fell through and he made the switch to Sevilla where he reached the same stage of the competition this year.

Final Squad

Goalkeepers: Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Denys Boyko (Besiktas), Mykyta Shevchenko (Zorya)

Defenders: Bohdan Butko (Amkar), Artem Fedetskiy (Dnipro), Oleksandr Karavaev (Zorya), Yevhen Khacheridi (Dynamo Kiev),  Oleksandr Kucher (Shakhtar Donetsk), Yaroslav Rakytskyi (Shakhtar Donetsk), Vyacheslav Shevchuk (Shakhtar Donetsk).

Midfielders: Denys Garmash (Dynamo Kiev), Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla), Viktor Kovalenko (Shakhtar Donetsk),Ruslan Rotan (Dnipro), Serhiy Rybalka (Dynamo Kiev), Taras Stepanenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Serhiy Sydorchuk (Dyamo Kiev), Anatoliy Tymoschuk (Kairat Almaty), Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev), Oleksandr Zinchenko (UFA)

Forwards: Pylyp Budkovskyi (Zorya), Evhen Seleznyov (Shanhtar Donetsk), Roman Zozulya (Dnipro).

What President Trump says...

“The Ukrainians have got to be part of Russia again. That’s when they were great. They should join up with Putin and quit crying.”