Poland head into Friday’s important World Cup Qualifying clash against fellow Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine sitting back in third place, with a game in hand of both England and Montenegro above them. The visitors to Warsaw however haven’t had the best of qualifying campaigns so far, dropping points at arguably the two weakest sides in the group. EKSTRAKLASAreview asked Peter Chymera of Ukrainian football blog the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame to give his assessment of the Ukrainian team ahead of Friday’s meeting at the Stadion Narodowy.
The game against Poland, will be Ukraine’s new coach Myhkhaylo Fomenko’s first competitive game in charge and it is a must win for Ukraine’s slim chances of qualifying for the World Cup to remain realistic.
Following an impressive performance at Wembley in September, when a late Frank Lampard penalty denied the visitors a historic victory, Ukraine have had two disastrous results against Moldova and Montenegro. Following Oleh Blokhins resignation to take the reins at Dynamo Kyiv and his subsequent heart problems, Ukraine were under caretaker coaches for the two games.
The main problem in those games appeared be the lack of cutting edge and the inability to create and finish chances. The only goal Ukraine have managed so far in the qualifiers has come via a fantastic long range effort from Yevhen Konoplyanka at Wembley. The lack of a goal scorer to replace the retired legend Andriy Shevchenko appears to be hindering the side currently.
Ukraine dominated the games against Moldova and Montenegro but were unable to break through which has proved costly as they found themselves with only 1 point from two games they were expecting to win.
The current forwards in the side are Marko Devic, Roman Zozulya and Yevhen Selznyov. In the autumn period of the summer, Marko Devic was at Shakhtar Donetsk but found his playing time limited. He has subsequently returned to Metalist Kharkiv and started all 3 league games post winter break and scored a goal on his “debut”. His return to first team football is likely to propel him into the starting line up for Ukraine.
Yevhen Konoplyanka has unfortunately been ruled out with injury and thus Ukraine will be looking for Andriy Yarmoklenko to step up and deliver when it is needed. Much has been said of the Dynamo Kyiv star but he has to now show he is capable of delivering quality performances consistently on the big stage if he is to move to the next level. If Yarmolenko and Devic can find form they are likely to pose a big attacking threat for Ukraine.
Aside from goal scoring, another problematic area for Ukraine could be the goalkeeper. Andriy Pyatov has been the recent number one, with the retirement of Olexandr Shovkovskyi and Andriy Dykan. However his form has been sketchy and he is prone to error. Mircea Lucescu even dropped him for Shakhtar, only for the replacement ‘keeper to pick up an injury. It will be interesting to see if Fomenko sticks with Pyatov or gives a first competitive appearance to the experienced Metalist keeper Olexandr Goryainov.
A stalwart in the Ukraine side is the captain and Bayern Munich midfielder, Anatoliy Tymoschuk. He is the record appearance holder and has recently issued a rallying cry to his team mates and fans and will do all in his power to inspire a Ukraine victory. If he can perform then he can provide a solid defensive platform Ukraine can build on and move forward.
For Ukraine’s dreams of qualification to be realised, this game is a must win and is certainly a must-not-lose. It is unlikely that Ukraine will throw caution to the wind from the outset, but it is vital to avoid errors and they will be hoping that Andriy Yarmolenko will bring a big performance and help Ukraine create and finish chances.
Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar) – Vyacheslav Shevchuk (Shakhtar), Yevhen Khacheridi (Dynamo), Yaroslav Rakitskyi (Shakhtar), Artem Fedetskyy (Dnipro) – Denys Garmash (Dynamo), Anatoliy Tymoschuk (C) (Bayern), Ruslan Rotan (Dnipro) – Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo), Mykola Morozyuk (Metalurg Donetsk), Marko Devic (Metalist)