Ukraine’s squad was seen off amid plenty of patriotic fervour in the capital city, Kiev, but hopes are not especially high for this summer.
Although progression to the knock-out stage is far from unlikely, even if as one of the best third-placed sides, the side lacks guile and does not seem to possess the depth for a long run.
That said, the presence of Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka does hark back to the days when Ukraine could call upon two genuine match-winners in Andriy Shevchenko and Serhiy Rebrov; whether the current pair are quite that good is debatable but they will show no remorse if more illustrious opponents drop their guard.
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THE BIG QUESTION
Will it be happy families in the Ukraine camp? Coach Mykhaylo Fomenko must have been exasperated when, at the start of May, two of his star players fell out in spectacularly public fashion.
Yarmolenko was sent off for kicking Taras Stepanenko in a brawl during the high-pressure match between Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk, and Stepanenko subsequently told the world that “my friendship with Yarmolenko has ended”.
The pair shook hands on television two weeks later and Yarmolenko accepted the blame for the incident; Ukrainian fans will hope that the remorse and reconciliation were real.
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HOW FAR WILL UKRAINE GET AT EURO 2016?
Ukraine’s reliance on Yarmlenko and Konoplyanka, their explosive wide forwards, is considerable and there is no obvious replacement for either should injury or poor form intervene. Roman Zozulya will probably lead the attack but has an uninspiring record and may be pressured by Artem Kravets, who has been on loan at Stuttgart from Dynamo Kiev.
Their defence is not the youngest and the 37-year-old Vyacheslav Shevchuk remains the best option at left-back, although his playing time at Shakhtar Donetsk has dwindled. A solid team does, at least, have plenty of Champions League experience with Ukraine’s top two clubs.
THE MANAGER: MYKHAYLO FOMENKO
Ukraine coach Fomenko
Image credit: Reuters
At 67, Fomenko is a veteran among Euro 2016 coaches although this is his first major international tournament. He was in charge for the heartbreaking World Cup 2014 play-off defeat against France and can bring considerable experience to bear after a varied career that, although largely spent domestically, has included spells in Iraq and Guinea.
Fomenko has been criticised for being too defensive at times but has fulfilled his target in taking Ukraine through a European Championship qualifying tournament for the first time.
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Image credit: Imago
Andriy Yarmolenko: Powerful Dynamo Kiev forward Yarmolenko will surely be the next big Ukrainian export abroad, even if the price is considerable. He is able to play on the left or centrally, and an outstanding athlete who has been a prolific scorer in the last three seasons.
Yevhen Konoplyanka: The Sevilla winger has not always had things his own way since turning down the Premier League for Spain but, like Yarmolenko, he is a rapier-like talent who can turn games on his own.
Denys Garmash: The tall Dynamo Kiev midfielder is another who could be lured abroad with a good tournament showing. He made his full Ukraine debut in 2011 but had already starred in the 2009 UEFA Under-19 Championship-winning side – scoring in the final against England.
SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
Most of the Ukraine side’s social media accounts demand a knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet, but Yarmolenko’s Twitter is a good bet for something more visual – including a peek at his latest tattoo.
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The obvious strength of the side is the two wide men, Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka, but Stepanenko has developed at Shakhtar into a formidable midfield anchor, both a screen for the back four and a player with a range of passing. He is key at springing the wide men on the counter.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Ukraine had to settle for a play-off place after finishing third in Group C behind Spain and Slovakia. It was not an inspiring campaign, although they twice ran Spain very close in single-goal defeats, but they were comfortably good enough to come ahead of Belarus and face Slovenia for a place at Euro 2016.
A 2-0 first-leg win in Kiev, secured with goals by Yarmolenko and Yevhen Selezhnov, did most of the job and Yarmolenko’s late breakaway strike in the return calmed the nerves after Slovenia had worked their way back into the tie.
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