What England can expect from Ukraine in Euro 2020 quarter-final

Saturday’s match against England will be one the biggest games in Ukraine’s history - but in their win against Sweden you could see why they will come into the quarter-final as clear underdogs

Jamie Braidwood
Wednesday 30 June 2021 17:49 BST
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And so it will be Ukraine who play England in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, after Andriy Shevchenko’s side prevailed in extra time to defeat Sweden 2-1 at Hampden. Despite what we have learned in recent days – following Switzerland's shock win over France and Czech Republic’s upset of Netherlands – Gareth Southgate might have been watching this match from afar while a wry smile, as on this evidence England have most definitely secured the most favourable quarter-final pairing of the teams remaining in the tournament.

Indeed, this was the only match of the last 16 where the winning team did not come away from the tie with any credit. Both sides were disappointing here, while 120 minutes will offer England an early advantage ahead of Saturday’s last-eight meeting. It took a last-second winner for Ukraine to advance against 10-man Sweden, who were the better side in 90 minutes. The tide turned following Marcus Danielson’s straight red card in extra time. It gave Ukraine the advantage, and England fans will not be complaining of the result based on this encounter.

A match-up against Sweden, and a repeat of the 2018 World Cup quarter-final in Russia, looked on the cards for much of this drab and leggy affair. With their rigid 4-4-2 system, England would have known what to expect had the Swedes progressed. But, by contrast, Ukraine represent more of a puzzle.

Shevchenko has altered his side in some way in each of their last four matches. Here, as they reached the last-eight of the Euros for the first time in their history, it was a change of system. Ukraine lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, a departure from the 4-3-3 that saw them finish third in Group C. It was a move that appeared designed to exploit Sweden’s weaknesses rather than playing to their strengths.

Sweden, perhaps the most predictable team at the competition given manager Janne Andersson’s preference of 4-4-2, were exposed by Ukraine’s wing-backs at times at Hampden, on the rare occasion Shevchenko’s side ventured forward. Oleksandr Zinchenko’s opener in the 27th minute came from an overload that exploited Sweden’s narrow formation. Taras Stepanenko switched the ball out wide to Vyacheslav Karavayev, before Andriy Yarmolenko had the quality to cut back inside and pick out Zinchenko in space on the left. The Manchester City full-back, operating on the left wing here, provided the finish – and it was hardly a surprise that he was Ukraine's lone source of quality in Glasgow.

Oleksandr Zinchenko smashed in Ukraine’s opening goal in the first half (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Similarly to his Ukraine counterpart, Southgate also changed up the formation he had used to see England through to the last 16, as his side defeated Germany 2-0 at Wembley. Southgate fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation in the group stages before switching to 3-4-3 for the visit of Joachim Low’s side. That was due to Low’s recent preference of the system – and it was a move that proved effective as England shut down Germany’s threats during the win.

While a match against Sweden would have favoured Southgate sticking with the 3-4-3, against Ukraine it will be far harder for him to make that call. Shevchenko is a tactical chameleon himself and there could be a fair amount of second-guessing in the days leading up to Saturday’s quarter-final.

But it was clear based on this showing that England’s quality is far superior to what Ukraine will likely be able to produce in Rome. After Zinchenko's goal, they dropped back, stayed compact and defended in numbers – but Sweden still managed to find an equaliser through the dangerous Emil Forsburg, who also hit the frame of the goal on two occasions. Ukraine offered virtually nothing in the second half in an attacking sense – apart from when Yarmalenko cut inside and laid the ball back to Serhiy Sydorchuk, who hit the post. Instead it was Sweden, who came into this fixture having had the lowest possession statistics of all teams in the tournament, who were the assertive side.

Even when Sweden were reduced to 10 men in extra time, Ukraine struggled to impose themselves on the game. It took the final seconds of the match for Shevchenko's side to produce a moment of magic. Again it came through a wide area, with Zinchenko’s sensational cross from the left touchline putting the ball on a plate for Artem Dovbyk to head home the late winner.

Additionally, although masked in the end by their celebrations, Ukraine were left looking like a broken team during extra time. Serhiy Kryvtsov and Artem Besyedin went down with injuries late on, while Yarmalenko left the pitch hobbling when he made way. Saturday’s match against England will be one of the biggest fixtures in Ukraine’s history – but on this evidence you could see why they will come into the game as clear underdogs.

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