Hosts No More – Can Ukraine Roar? Ukraine’s EURO 2016 Preview
Hosts No More – Can Ukraine Roar?
Ukraine’s EURO 2016 Preview
Every four years a spectacle rolls through Europe – and it’s not of the EuroVision kind. UEFA’s EURO tournament is back and better than ever as it now features 24 of best teams the continent has to offer. Ukrainian football fans know just what’s in store for France, as they remember the excitement of having fans from across Europe visit the country four years ago for EURO 2012. Unlike four years ago, when the team gained automatic qualification for the tournament as host, this time the Blue-Yellows qualified the hard way, and in the process exorcised demons of qualification past.
But just like four years ago, when Lviv was one of four Ukrainian host cities, Lviv once again played a big role in the Ukrainian national football team. The city hosted four qualification games – including the all-important 2:0 playoff victory over Slovenia – that saw the team move its all-time record in the city to a sparkling 12 wins and 2 draws in 14 games. The team has been dominant in the Western Ukrainian capital, having never dropped a game and scoring 21 goals along the way, compared to conceding just 3. Qualification seems like a long time ago now, and as the team gets set to face off against the national squads of Germany, Northern Ireland, and rival Poland in France this summer, Lviv Today has everything you need to follow the boys in blue and yellow along the way.
Ukrainian National Team Records in Lviv
Arena Lviv: 8 GP, 6 W, 2 D, 0 L, 21 GF, 3 GA
Ukraina: 6 GP, 6 W, 0 D, 0 L, 14 GF, 5 GA
France 2016: The More the Merrier
While most Ukrainians won’t need any primer of what the EURO Championships are all about after mingling with fans from across Europe at stadiums, in Fan Zones, and in restaurants, pubs and parks across the country four years ago, there are some differences between this tournament and last. The 15th running of this tournament will feature 24 teams for the first time, up from the 16 that have been featured in tournaments since 1996. This meant that a number of non-traditional teams gained qualification for a major tournament, including: teams that haven’t qualified in a very long time such as Hungary (first since 1972) and Belgium (first since hosting in 2000); teams that have never qualified except as host, including Ukraine (2012) and Austria (2008); teams that have never qualified for the EUROs that have featured in the World Cup before, such as Northern Ireland, Slovakia, and Wales; and teams that have never played in a major competition before, like Albania and Iceland. It also means that more teams will make the playoffs in France, as the top two from each of the six groups automatically qualify, along with the top four 3rd-place teams. This should bode well for our Ukrainian boys, as they were drawn into a difficult group alongside favourites Germany, qualifying group winners Northern Ireland, and offensive juggernaut Poland.
Group ‘C’ Qualifying
Record: 10 GP, 6 W, 1 D, 3 L, 14 GF, 4 GA, 19 Points
Sept. 8: UKR 0:1 SVK (Kyiv)
Oct. 9: BLR 0:2 UKR (Belarus)
Oct. 12: UKR 1:0 MKD (Lviv)
Nov. 15: LUX 0:3 UKR (Luxembourg)
Mar.27: ESP 1:0 UKR (Spain)
June 14: UKR 3:0 LUX (Lviv)
Sept. 5: UKR 3:1 BEL (Lviv)
Sept. 8: SVK 0:0 UKR (Slovakia)
Oct. 9: MKD 0:1 UKR (Macedonia)
Oct. 12: UKR 0:1 ESP (Kyiv)
Nov. 14: UKR 2:0 SLO (Lviv)
Nov. 17: SLO 1:1 UKR (Slovenia)
Ten cities across France will host fixtures, including: Paris, Lille, Lyon, Nice, Bordeaux, Marseille, Lens, Saint-Etienne, Toulouse and, of course, the Stade de France in St. Denis, which will host the finals. The Ukrainian team will be based in Southern France with their base camp in Aix-en-Provence. The team opens the tournament on June 12th in Lille against Germany, before returning south to play Northern Ireland in Lyon on June 16th and Poland in Marseille on June 21st. The playoffs will begin on June 25th and are expected to feature the traditional European powerhouses, including Spain, Germany, England, France, and Italy. The finals will take place in the grand Stade de France on July 10th.
So You Want to Play for Ukraine? National team halfback Edmar only became a Ukrainian citizen back in 2011 after marrying a girl from Simferopol. While he gained the right to play for the national team, he also took on the responsibilities of Ukrainian citizenship – including getting drafted to the army! His club was able to get him a reprieve from military service for his adopted country.
Ukrainian Team Preview: Sixth Time a Charm
Long-time fans of Ukrainian football are well aware of just how difficult it is to qualify for a top-level international competition. Since independence, the Ukrainian team has played in 10 qualification cycles, but has only qualified for the 2006 World Cup – where they went on a scintillating run to the quarterfinals with wins over Tunisia, Saudia Arabia, and Switzerland. Of those other 9 cycles, Ukraine has made it to the home-and-away playoff round a total of 6 times (!). After years of demoralising setbacks, including in 2000 when they conceded to Slovenia with just 12 minutes remaining to be denied qualification for EURO 2000, in 2010 losing in Donetsk to Greece to miss out on the 2010 World Cup, and in 2014 when the team blew a 2:0 lead in the second game to France to go down 2:3 on aggregate and miss out on the 2014 World Cup. EURO 2016 qualification looked no easier, as the team was drawn against World and European champions Spain and a tricky, up-and-coming Slovakian squad. The team finished 3rd and this time managed to get past their home-and-away playoff demons by defeating Slovenia 3:1 in the playoff, including a dominant 2:0 display at Arena Lviv. With the qualification monkey off their back, Ukraine goes into France in an underdog position in a difficult Group C.
Did You Know? The Soviet team that lost the 1988 EURO final to the Netherlands was little more than a Ukrainian all-star squad? Led by legendary Dynamo Kyiv head coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi and prolific striker Oleh Protasov, the team featured 13 Ukrainians (out of 21 players) including 11 (!) from Dynamo.
Group C Preview: Defence is the Best Offence
It is said that defence wins championships; in Ukraine’s case this summer, that old adage is doubly important. Only Romania (2), England, and Spain (3) conceded fewer goals than Ukraine (4) throughout the 10-match qualification process. On the other hand, Group C rivals Poland (33) and Germany (24) finished 1st and 3rd in scoring throughout the process. Poland’s Robert Lewandoski topped all scorers and equalled a EURO qualifying record in the process with 13 goals in 10 games, while Germany’s Thomas Müller finished not far behind in 3rd with 9 markers. To advance, Ukraine will need to keep these two potent offences in check and capitalise on their own chances. In this regard, the team will look to the offensive prowess of Dynamo Kyiv forward Andriy Yarmolenko, who tallied 6 times in qualifying, and former Dnipro wing and current Sevilla star Yevhen Konoplyanka. The team could also feature up to 3 players with connections to Lviv region – Dynamo’s Mykola Morozyuk, Vorskla’s Artem Hromov, and Karpaty Lviv’s-own Pavlo Ksyonz. Captain Anatoliy Timoshuk, who has seen over 140 caps since joining the national team back in 2000 – will once again provide the leadership for the Ukrainian side.
Germany: Can They Be Stopped?
Rank: #2 All-Time Record vs. Ukraine: 2 W, 0 L, 3 D, 10 GF, 5 GA
Reigning World Cup champions. 3-time EURO champions. #2-ranked squad in the world. Anything less than an appearance at Stade de France for the EURO 2016 finals will be considered a disappointment for this powerful squad. Germany held both the World Cup and EURO titles back in 1972 and 1974; Spain did it more recently in 2010 and 2012 – you can bet that this team wants to match that success. Germany stumbled in qualifying against the same Polish team they’ll face this summer, losing 0:2 in Warsaw. They’ll be determined not to let it happen again. Players to watch: The entire team, but keep your eye on Müller, MF Marco Reus, G Manuel Neuer, and MF Bastian Schweinsteiger
Schedule: June 12th vs. Ukraine, June 16th vs. Poland, June 21st vs. Northern Ireland
Prediction: 3rd in Group C
Poland: Is it Their Turn to Shine?
Rank: #18 All-Time Record vs. Ukraine: 2 W, 3 L, 2 D, 8 GF, 9 GA
Not since the early 80s, when they finished 3rd at the 1982 World Cup, have the Poles had a reason to believe that they could succeed in top-level football. Thanks to the name Robert Lewandowski, that is not the case this summer. The lanky striker is considered to be among the purest strikers in the world, and after defeating the powerful Germans in qualifying, this Polish team will fancy their chances against any team in the tournament. Poland could just as easily finish 3rd in this group as to win it, so the games against Germany and Ukraine will be as exciting as they are essential. Players to watch: Lewandowski, DF Kamil Glik, and MF Grzegorz Krychowiak.
Schedule: June 12th vs. Northern Ireland, June 16th vs. Germany, June 21st vs. Ukraine
Prediction: 3rd in Group C
Northern Ireland: Are They for Real?
Rank: #46 All-Time Record vs. Ukraine: 0 W, 2 L, 2 D, 1 GF, 3 GA
Not many saw Northern Ireland coming out on top of their qualifying group; not only had they never qualified for the EUROs, the last time they qualified for the World Cup was back when E.T. had just become a household name and Eye of the Tiger ruled the airwaves (1982). In the process, the #48-ranked Northern Irish became the lowest-seeded team ever to top a EURO qualifying group. This Cinderella story couldn’t have happened without the efforts of forward Kyle Lafferty and captain Steven Davis. Northern Ireland will look to steal a game from one of the higher-ranked teams to sneak into the playoffs, but with no expectations and a solid side, teams should not take them lightly either. Players to watch: Lafferty, Davis, and GK Roy Carroll.
Schedule: June 12th vs. Poland, June 16th vs. Ukraine, June 21st vs. Germany
Prediction: 4th in Group C
Ukraine: What Team Will Show Up?
Rank: #8 Best EURO Result: 2012, 1 W, 2 L, 2 D, 2 GF, 4 GA
Now that they have got the qualifying monkey off their backs, the Ukrainians will look to surprise Europe this summer. Many oddsmakers have our boys pegged to finish 3rd in the group, thanks to the potent offences of frontrunners Germany and Poland. That, however, disregards how tidy the Ukrainian defenders have kept the sheets over the past few years. Ukraine will need to continue to stay strong at the back and show moments of creativity up front if they hope to make a run in France. The team will be content with making the playoffs, but have the capacity of a run to the quarter-finals, or – if the football gods shine down on them – even the semi-finals. They will need Yarmolenko to continue his fine form, and hope for someone else to step up offensively. In this regard, keep your eye on former Shakhtar striker Yevhen Seleznyov. Players to watch: Yarmolenko, Konoplyanka, and Seleznyov.
Schedule: June 12th vs. Germany, June 16th vs. Northern Ireland, June 21st vs. Poland
Prediction: 2nd in Group C