Hello and welcome to the ESPN FC page for the Ukraine at UEFA Euro 2012! Over the next few weeks and during the tournament I will be blogging about not only the performances of the Ukrainian national team in the build up to the competition and at the Euros themselves, but I will also be discuss the history of the beautiful game in Ukraine and the magnificent legacy that the country left behind as an integral part of football in the Soviet Union. In addition, I will be providing what I hope will be an in-depth tactical preview of the Ukrainian national team and how they shape up against their Group D opponents. But before I can get to any of that, I feel it is appropriate to begin with a recap of Monday's friendly against Estonia in Austria, the first of three warm up matches for the Yellow-Blues in the lead up to the competition.
Ukraine lined up with a 4-4-1-1, the formation that they are widely expected to use at the Euros this summer. Andriy Pyatov, the undisputed number one now that all of Ukraine's other goalies have been either injured or suspended, started at goalkeeper. The back four consisted of Yevhen Khacheridi and Taras Mykhalyk as centre-backs, with Oleh Husiev and Yevhen Selin as right and left back, respectively. Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Serhiy Nazarenko started in the centre of midfield. Tymoshchuk performed the role of the holding midfielder while Nazarenko was allowed freedom to roam further up the pitch. Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka started on the flanks, while up top, Andriy Voronin supported Marko Devic.
All in all it was a fairly straightforward tactical set up and one that will most likely heavily resemble the Ukrainian line up in Kiev on the 11th of June in the opening match against Sweden. The fullbacks consistently got up the pitch and made overlapping runs to support the wingers. Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko cut inside and linked up well with Nazarenko and Voronin. Devic, the striker, drifted into the midfield and out into the wings to create space for the other attacking players. Obviously Estonia is not the calibre of competition that Ukraine will face this summer. But nevertheless, this friendly provided a glimpse of the type of tactics we can expect to see Blokhin employ.
Ukraine got off to a very quick start and dominated proceedings from beginning to end. The first chance came inside the first minute. Konoplyanka received the ball out wide, but he saw his powerful left-footed drive parried over the bar by Estonian keeper Mikhel Aksalu. The early dominance would soon pay off. Voronin, who had dropped back into the midfield, found Nazarenko in the box. Nazarenko cleverly cut back for Yarmolenko, who beat Aksalu at the near post. 1-0 in the 9th minute. The rest of the first half saw more of the same. The Estonians were hardly able to get out of their own half, let alone threaten Pyatov's goal.
Ukraine's next chance came in the 29th minute. Voronin pounced on the rebound of Konoplyanka's long range effort but managed to send the ball well over the target from three meters out with the goal gaping. Five minutes later Yarmolenko was brought down in the box, and Husiev confidently sent Aksalu the wrong way to give the Ukrainians a 2-0 lead. Shortly afterward Yarmolenko burst into the box and found Devic making a run to the near post. Aksalu managed to get a hand on Devic's shot, but Voronin made up for his earlier howler by heading into an empty net off the rebound. 3-0 at half time, and it was nothing less than Blokhin's men deserved.
Half Time Substitutions
Blokhin made four changes at half time, though the shape of the side remained essentially the same. Rakitskiy replaced Mikhalik at centre back. Aliyev came on for Voronin, Shevchenko for Yarmolenko, and Milevskiy for Devic. As a result, Nazarenko went out wide to the right, Aliyev took his place in the centre of midfield alongside Tymoschuk, and Milevskiy and Shevchenko formed the partnership in attack.
The second half started out with more of the same: Ukraine dominating, with Estonia struggling to keep possession and create chances. Shevchenko, the all-time leading goalscorer and symbol of the national team, made an immediate impact. Five minutes after the break, he gathered the ball in the box, beat two defenders, and crossed it for Milevskiy, who got a touch to send it past the keeper and make the score 4-0. Pyatov was called into action for the first time in the 53rd minute and did well to tip Tarmo Kink's powerful attempt over the bar.
Blokhin made another switch in the 54th, taking off Nazarenko for the striker Yevhen Seleznyov. This altered the tactical set up of the squad. Ukraine now had three attackers and no right sided midfielder. Shevchenko often drifted out wide, but there was plenty of space on the right side of the pitch to exploit. This allowed Husiev, who started his career as a right-sided midfielder before being converted into a fullback, to attack more and effectively become a winger. But this left too many gaps in defence, and several times Khacheridi had to drift over and cover for Gusev, who was out of position. Blokhin responded by taking out Husiev for Bohdan Butko. Butko did well after coming out and twice found Seleznyov with perfect crosses, but the striker was unable to convert his opportunities. Ukraine continued to press Estonia and created several more chances, but were unable to extend their lead. 4-0 at full time.
A positive result and an impressive performance. Estonia may not be the toughest opponent, but Ukraine showed plenty of quality in all areas of the pitch. Particularly encouraging were the performances of the two young wingers, Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko, who threatened with every touch. Shevchenko demonstrated that even though he may have lost some of his pace, he can still be an impact player off the bench and still has the technique and vision of a world class striker. The fullbacks contributed to the attacks and made plenty of overlapping runs in support of the wingers. The centre-back pairing of Khacheridi and Mikhalik were not tested nearly enough to make any kind of judgment on their performance, although they responded well to the limited threat that the Estonians occasionally posed. Tymoschuk was a rock in the midfield as always, and Nazarenko impressed with his runs into the box. The only negative from the match was the poor finishing of Yevhen Seleznyov, who has not been able to replicate his club form for the national side. Despite this one dark spot, one could not have hoped for a better result in Austria.
Man of the Match
Plenty of candidates, but Andriy Yarmolenko was involved in all three first half goals before being substituted at half time. Quick, powerful, and with an excellent touch, the Dynamo Kiev winger is one of Ukraine's brightest young prospects at just 22 years of age, and his talents were on full display here.
Yevhen Seleznyov: “Ukraine played well against Estonia, but only the European championships will reveal everything. There will be a completely different atmosphere, different teams. We cannot yet guess ahead.”
Andriy Pyatov: “Of course, it's always nice to win, especially with a big result. But before the match the coach emphasized not the result, but the performance of the team. In these types of matches that is far more important. We had to play in our style, to implement our game. Even at 4-0 the team did not stop. The result only confirms that in the match against Estonia, many things worked well. The team kept a clean sheet, won with a large scoreline, and completely dominated on the pitch, over the course of the whole match. Of course, this instils confidence. The quality of the performance and the result always affect the morale of the squad.”
Serhiy Nazarenko: “The first match was a success, but we still have two friendlies to implement a game plan. There is a collective spirit in the squad, everyone plays for each other, and this is probably the most important thing.”
Anatoliy Tymoshchuk: “The Estonian national team is a quality opponent, but we still have two matches ahead of us and we have to work with the same dedication and desire toward victory. I think that if we play the same way, the results will continue to come. There is not a lot of time until Euro 2012, so we need to demonstrate a quick style of play. We are playing with a lot of pressure, but this does not matter, we need to give it our all on the pitch.”
Oleg Blokhin: “One one hand, I enjoyed that match. Well done to the lads, the played until the end and did not concede. Of course, we could have scored maybe four more. I liked the movement. I did not like some moments of play from a strictly tactical point of view, on which we still have to work. To go out onto the pitch at halftime being up 3-0 is a bit difficult, the team tends to relax, but considering fatigue from training, I believed that the football we played wasn't bad.”