Always a tricky opponent for Europe’s bigger names, Ukraine represent something of an unknown quantity. This is not a stellar team, but it is one with fight and with home advantage; the question is how far that will take them. The Eastern Europeans are hampered by apparent discord in the dressing room as well as a far from ideal build-up to Euro 2012. In 2010, Myron Markevych was forced from his post, leading to Oleg Blokhin’s return as coach. He was brought in to help steady the ship, but instead led Ukraine to defeats against France and Sweden, both sides they will face this summer.
The co-hosts have improved since and are unbeaten in five games though may miss Dmytro Chygrynskiy this summer. Much could rest on Anatoliy Tymoshchuk of Bayern Munich in central midfield, while Andriy Yarmolenko is a promising and exciting talent. Ukraine are also highly dependent on the veterans of the squad however, such as Andriy Shevchenko and Andriy Voronin.
In The Dugout – Oleg Blokhin
Along with the late, great, Valeriy Lobanovskyi, Blokhin is Ukraine’s most famous coach. He led the country to the World Cup in 2006 and a quarter-final spot, the best result in Ukraine’s history. He was one of the best Ukrainian forwards back in the days of the Soviet Union, and scored more goals than anyone else in the national championship, as well as being a former European Player of the Year.
Blokhin originally took over in 2003 but resigned four years’ later after failure to qualify for the European Championship in 2008. Brought back to re-inject some discipline and organisation to the squad, he will have his work cut out this summer to qualify from a tight and difficult group.
Key Player – Anatoliy Tymoschuk
Aside from Dynamo Moscow’s Voronin, Tymoschuk is the only player in the Ukraine side who plays his football abroad. The feisty midfielder, who is also the most capped player in the squad , is a key presence in the heart of Blokhin’s team. The 33-year-old used to play for Zenit St, Petersburg, with which he won the UEFA Cup in 2008. The captain if Shevchenko is not available, Ukraine will need Tymoschuk at his best if they are to have a successful Euro 2012.
View from Ukraine
There is general pessimism that Ukraine will be able to make it out of a difficult group. The instability around the team in recent times has fed that, and without any real stars who will be able to carry them through, an early exit is expected for the co-hosts.
Ukraine will field only two players who play outside of their domestic league at Euro 2012. Whilst that may suffice for some of the continent’s best teams, it is likely to be a problem for a comparatively weak Ukraine, whose lack of European experience could count against them. But in a group in which anyone can beat anyone else, it is likely to go down to the wire. If Ukraine take on England for a top two spot, they could just spring a shock, but it would be more likely to expect them to make a valiant early exit.