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Ukraine Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

:Headline: Ukraine Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player:
Ahead of this summer's European Championship, Sports Mole assesses the chances of a Ukraine side which impressively finished above Portugal and Serbia in qualifying.
Sports Mole

After enduring a dismal Euro 2016 campaign before failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Ukraine will be hoping to bounce back with a strong showing at Euro 2020.

Ukraine have never progressed past the group stage as an independent nation at the European Championships, so the bar for their all-time record top goalscorer Andriy Shevchenko, who has managed the national team since the autumn of 2016, is relatively low to surpass.

Indeed, the Yellow and Blue failed to pick up a point or even score a goal at Euro 2016, finishing bottom of their group as relative minnows Northern Ireland reached the knockout stages in their place.

After a very strong showing during qualifying, though, Shevchenko will feel confident of a much better return under his tutelage this time around.

Here, Sports Mole previews Ukraine's chances at this summer's Euro 2020.


GROUP

Ukraine qualified for Euro 2020 as number one seeds, and have been drawn alongside Netherlands, Austria and North Macedonia in Group C.

Given that three teams progress from four of the six groups, Ukraine should feel very confident of progressing to the knockout stages of the European Championships for the first time in their history.

While Netherlands will be favourites to top the group, North Macedonia are the lowest ranked nation at the tournament, so if Shevchenko's side can beat them and at least avoid defeat against the Austrians, that should be enough to see them through to the last 16.

FIXTURES

June 13: Netherlands vs. Ukraine (8pm, Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam)
June 17: Ukraine vs. North Macedonia (2pm, National Arena, Bucharest)
June 21: Ukraine vs. Austria (5pm, National Arena, Bucharest)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

As briefly alluded to, Ukraine were hugely impressive in qualifying for Euro 2020, finishing ahead of Portugal and Serbia to top Group B.

Draws away to those two rivals for automatic qualification came alongside winning all other six games in the group, which proved enough to finish three points ahead of a Portugal side who many observers understandably feel are strong contenders to retain their title after winning Euro 2016.

This is the first time that Ukraine have ever directly qualified for a European Championship, having automatically competed at Euro 2012 as co-hosts, before beating Slovenia in a play-off to reach Euro 2016.

As such, there may be more pressure than usual on the national team to perform strongly at a major tournament, but as many nations have discovered in the past, doing the business in qualifying and a tournament are very different beasts indeed.


RECENT FORM

Since the European Championship qualifiers ended more than 18 months ago, Ukraine's form has been pretty poor, with Shevchenko's side losing six of their 14 matches during that timeframe.

However, this should be mitigated by three of those defeats coming at the hands of Spain and Germany combined in the Nations League A, with France, Poland and Switzerland the other nations to get the better of them.

Moreover, Ukraine are unbeaten in six matches in 2021, with four consecutive 1-1 draws backed up by comfortable victories - and much-needed clean sheets - in their two warm-up friendlies against Northern Ireland and Cyprus.

Clearly, then, there is much for The Yellow and Blue to work on, but they showed during qualifying for Euro 2020 that they have the ability to turn it on when it truly counts.


SQUAD

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

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

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

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


STAR PLAYER - RUSLAN MALINOVSKYI

One of only eight players in Ukraine's squad who are currently plying their trade outside of their home nation, Ruslan Malinovskyi has been one of the leading lights in Atalanta BC's rise to becoming a Champions League club in recent seasons.

Winner of the 2020-21 Serie A top assister award with an impressive tally of 12 across the league campaign, Malinovskyi has also chipped in with eight league goals for Atalanta two seasons running, illustrating his ability to consistently provide elite level output despite not nominally being considered a forward.

For Ukraine, the attacking midfielder scored three goals during their successful Euro 2020 qualification campaign, before adding to his tally in a 2-1 defeat to Germany last year.

Malinovskyi has perhaps not quite hit the heights of his club form for his country just yet, but at 25 years of age, it will surely not be long before a player possessing his calibre of shooting and passing ability catches fire in the Yellow and Blue shirt.


MANAGER - ANDRIY SHEVCHENKO

One man who certainly did that across his playing career is Andriy Shevchenko, who scored a record 48 goals in 111 caps for Ukraine.

The former AC Milan striker helped his country reach the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup, scoring two goals in Germany that summer, before bagging a brace against Sweden to secure Ukraine's first and only European Championship victory so far as a host nation in 2012.

Following his retirement that summer, Shevchenko pursued a career in politics, before initially joining Ukraine as assistant manager in February 2016. However, following the aforementioned disappointment of Euro 2016, Shevchenko replaced Mykhaylo Fomenko as manager and has remained in charge ever since.

Despite missing out on qualification for the 2018 World Cup, Shevchenko's win rate remains at an impressive 47% from his 45 matches in charge so far. His already high stock at home was significantly increased by the strong showing during qualifying for Euro 2020, but his legacy as a manager may ultimately rest on what ensues at the tournament itself.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: Group stage (2012, 2016)

Since gaining independence and breaking away from the former Soviet Union in 1992, Ukraine's greatest achievement has been reaching the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup, which is the only World Cup they have ever qualified for.

In terms of the European Championship, though, success has been much more limited. The Yellow and Blue automatically qualified as co-hosts in 2012, with their high point of that tournament undoubtedly coming via the Shevchenko-led win against Sweden.

However, Euro 2016 proved a total embarrassment after failing to pick up a point or even score a single goal, so they will be hoping for much better things to come this summer.


PREDICTION

An impressive qualification campaign helped Ukraine surprisingly cement themselves as top seeds, which has undoubtedly made life a little easier for them with regards to their Euro 2020 group.

As such, Shevchenko's side should have enough about them to reach the last 16 for the first time in their history. However, unless they can pip Netherlands to top spot in Group C, a tough fixture will almost certainly await them in the knockout stages. We think they lack a little quality to go any further than the last 16.

VERDICT: Last 16
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