Football Features

Ukraine Euro 2020: Best players, manager, tactics, form and chance of winning

By Mohamed Moallim

Ukraine Euro 2020: Best players, manager, tactics, form and chance of winning

Published: 12:23, 30 June 2021

Ukraine secured a place at this summer’s European Championship after finishing as unbeaten winners in Group B.

The former hosts finished three points ahead of holders Portugal and are enjoying their first foray into the knockout stages.

In their previous two outings, Ukraine were unable to get out of the group, finishing third (2012) and fourth (2016) respectively, meaning Andriy Shevchenko’s charges have already made history.

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Ukraine “shouldn’t be scared of England”, says Shevchenko

Ukraine are now in uncharted territory having never made it this far in a European Championships. Indeed, the Blue and Yellow’s only other quarter-final appearance at a major tournament came at the 2006 World Cup, where they were thrashed 3-0 by eventual winners Italy.

England await them in the last eight this time around, with the Three Lions keeping four clean sheets from four games so far and putting in an authoritative performance to beat Germany 2-0 in the round-of-16.

But despite being huge outsiders for this game and the tournament as a whole, Shevchenko insists Ukraine have nothing to be scared of against England and that the strength of Gareth Southgate’s side should “motivate” his players.

“England are a great team. They have a deep bench, an outstanding coaching staff and we are fully aware of how tough this game is going to be,” he said.

“I saw all their three group matches, [though] not today’s win over Germany because we had to prepare for our own game with Sweden. They are incredibly difficult to score against but their strength shouldn’t scare us.

“It should motivate us because everything is possible in football, as in life, and we will play our hearts out to give our fans even more to cheer about.”

The best players Ukraine will bring to Euro 2020

Goalkeeper: Georgi Bushchan

Going into the tournament, many expected Andriy Pyatov to be Ukraine’s man in goal, but instead, it has been Georgi Bushchan. The 27-year-old only made his Ukraine debut last year and has played 10 times so far, including his four appearances at Euro 2020, and has already had to make 13 saves at the tournament.

Defender: Mykola Matvienko

Having made his international debut in 2017, no Ukrainian international has played more times under Shevchenko than Mykola Matvienko (40), who initially started at left-back before moving into the middle of defence. He’s been near ever-present at the back while the identity of his central defensive partner keeps changing. Not shy of making a challenge, the former Arsenal and Manchester City target is equally talented in possession with his long-range passing often lauded. Matvienko, whose contract at Shakhtar Donetsk expires in 2025, is playing in his first major tournament this summer and has made a team-high 10 interceptions so far.

Midfielder: Ruslan Malinovskyi

A solid hand at Serie A’s rising side Atalanta, there’s no question the heartbeat of this Ukraine side is Ruslan Malinovsky whose excellent distribution and ability to retain possession has turned the Yellow and Blue into an easy-on-the-eye force. Malinovskyi’s ability to create space and seamlessly move between the lines not only makes his side tick but also difficult to contain for the opposition. On top of possessing the fundamentals the versatile midfielder, who is as comfortable playing in front of the defence as behind the striker, is another goalscoring threat having already found the net six times across 41 outings.

Forward: Andriy Yarmolenko

Given the reputation of their coach, there’s one area in which his interest will undoubtedly be strong. Regularly finding the net at international level is a challenging prospect, Shevchenko managed 48 strikes in 111 appearances making him Ukraine’s all-time scorer. However, not far behind is Andriy Yarmolenko, who has scored 42 in 13 fewer games. Now at West Ham, the 31-year-old currently occupies the right-wing berth, though has been known to operate on the opposite flank, and is seen as his nation’s biggest attacking danger. He’s already notched two goals and two assists, including that delicious delivery for Oleksandr Zinchenko’s strike against Sweden in the round-of-16.

The manager: Andriy Shevchenko

Not exactly a new phenomenon (see Mark Hughes and Marco van Basten), coaching his national team is Shevchenko’s first senior managerial job, though it’s also fair to say very few saw him sitting in the dugout after hanging up his boots. Then again, leaving the beautiful game altogether would have been a considerable waste considering the knowledge he absorbed during an illustrious playing career that spanned nearly two decades. During that period, Shevchenko was coached by the likes of José Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Fatih Terim, Alberto Zaccheroni and his nation’s greatest tactician Valeriy Lobanovskyi, who is considered among football’s preeminent thinkers. So far, Shevchenko has won 25 of his 51 matches since being appointed in July 2016. His biggest success to date was reaching Euro 2020 unbeaten and taking four points off defending champions Portugal, including a 2-1 win at home. That said, getting to the quarter-final is sure to top that and his standing will Ukraine will go through the roof should he inspire the nation to victory over England.

The tactics

To date, Shevchenko has utilised no fewer than six different formations, suggesting he’s not as rigid as some of his coaching peers. With that being said, the former Ballon d’Or recipient has mostly used the 4-3-3 shape at Euro 2020, with the obvious exception of Ukraine’s 2-1 extra-time win over Sweden where he deployed three centre-backs.

Another facet of his managerial reign that illustrates Shevchenko’s flexibility is the constant player rotation, having used 83 players so far. Historically, the Ukrainian national team has played a counter-attacking style, but their current boss wants to adopt a more possession-based approach.

“I want the team to play creative football,” he said.

“But there must be a balance. Players must understand when to attack and when to defend or control the ball, when to circle and when to give.”

That ambitious target has come to fruition over the past two years.

Being in a qualification group with Euro 2016 winners Portugal and talent-laden Serbia would have given Ukraine pause for thought but they certainly rose to the occasion after beginning their campaign at the Estádio da Luz with a goalless draw. What followed was Shevchenko’s men posting six wins on the bounce which saw them register 15 goals and only concede twice. A 2-2 draw in Belgrade rounded off their campaign and ensured they joined Denmark, Spain, Belgium and Italy as unbeaten Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Plenty of water has passed under the bridge since Mykhaylo Fomenko’s Ukraine crashed out of Euro 2016 with three defeats from three group games. Veteran midfielder Ruslan Rotan has retired, as has Oleksandr Kucher, while Yevhen Khacheridi has fallen out of favour. That said, the attacking thrust for that squad was provided by Yarmolenko, just as it is now.

Ukraine Euro 2020 squad

Goalkeepers: Georgiy Bushchan (Dynamo Kyiv), Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Anatolii Trubin (Shakhtar Donetsk)

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

Midfielders: Serhiy Sydorchuk (Dynamo Kyiv), Ruslan Malinovskyi (Atalanta), Mykola Shaparenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Marlos (Shakhtar Donetsk), Yevhen Makarenko (Kortrijk), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City), Viktor Tsygankov (Dynamo Kyiv), Taras Stepanenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Andriy Yarmolenko (West Ham), Oleksandr Zubkov (Ferencváros), Heorhii Sudakov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Roman Bezus (Gent)

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

Recent fixtures: DLWLWWDDD

Ukraine entered Euro 2020 in good form, unbeaten in 2021 to put a terrible 2020 behind them. However, their performances at the tournament haven’t been great, with Ukraine losing two of their three group stage matches despite making it through to the last-16, where they needed extra time to beat Sweden.

Chances of making history:

Qualifying as one of the best third-placed teams, Ukraine are not favoured to win Euro 2020, with Sky Bet are offering odds of 33/1 for them go all the way this summer, making them the outsiders.

(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)

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