EURO 2020: Shevchenko wants to break through as Ukraine coach
To see what talent and hard work can accomplish, Ukrainian players only have to look at their coach.
AC Milan great player Andriy Shevchenko is entering his first major tournament as head coach after five years at the helm. The goal is to reach the round of 16 of the European Championship for the first time after making group stage outings in 2012 and 2016. Shevchenko was an assistant coach in France five years ago and took the plunge after the tournament.
The core of his squad is made up of established players like Manchester City full-back Oleksandr Zinchenko, West Ham winger Andriy Yarmolenko and Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Yevhen Konoplyanka.
Being drawn with the Netherlands, Austria and North Macedonia in Group C gives Ukraine a solid chance to advance.
Shevchenko’s preliminary squad for the tournament includes 34 players, but only two from the Ukrainian squad that won the Under-20 World Cup in 2019 – Real Madrid reserve goalkeeper Andriy Lunin and left-back by Shakhtar Viktor Korniyenko.
Korniyenko has never played for the national team and Lunin is excluded from the starting lineup by 36-year-old Andriy Pyatov.
Ukraine’s most exciting young player was too young for this Under-20 team in 2019. 18-year-old center-back Illya Zabarnyi broke into the Dynamo Kyiv squad this season and played all 10 games of the club in the Champions League and Europa League against opponents like Barcelona and Juventus.
Zabarnyi’s international debut came in October as the team, diminished by coronavirus cases, were routed by France 7-1 in a friendly match. He has played five more times since then and helped stabilize the squad ahead of Euro 2020.
Turning the potential into success among seniors, however, is an old problem for Ukraine. Pyatov was part of the squad that finished second at the 2006 European Under-21 Championship, but Ukraine did not qualify for the 2010, 2014 or 2018 editions of the World Cup.
Ukraine has had a tougher time than most national teams amid the pandemic. After a series of players and staff tested positive for the coronavirus, the entire team was quarantined by Swiss officials and was unable to play their final Nations League game. A long legal battle ensued before the Court of Arbitration for Sport declared that Ukraine lost the match by default and were relegated.
Injury is also a problem, with Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka rushing to get back in shape and form after missing Ukraine’s three World Cup qualifiers in March. Ukraine drew 1-1. It was a respectable result against world champions France – especially after the 7-1 friendly loss six months earlier – but below expectations against Finland and deeply disappointing against Kazakhstan.
When everything clicks, however, Ukraine can threaten Europe’s top teams.
The highlight of Shevchenko’s time was a 2-1 win over Portugal in October 2019. Goals from Yarmolenko and forward Roman Yaremchuk put Ukraine on track to qualify for the Euro 2020.
A 1-0 victory over Spain in the Nations League last year further highlighted the potential of the team.