It cannot be easy for this group of players to imagine what major success would look like.
For the majority of them, they will be measured on a scale of ‘one’ to ‘Andriy Shevchenko’ - who just happens to be their manager.
No matter who scores the goal to become the hero, they won’t have as many as he did. No matter how many times they play, it’s unlikely they’ll be as beloved by the nation as he was, captain as many times as he was, or signed by as big a club as he was.
Shevchenko, for a generation of fans, was Ukraine - maybe alongside his sidekick striker Sergei Rebrov.
Now, though, the top scorer in Ukrainian football history is trying to take a new iteration of the same national team to where they have never been before, with or without him: the knock-out rounds of the European Championships as a standalone nation.
Of course, Ukraine’s fractured history means they have gone the distance, technically: the Soviet Union won Euro 1960 and the post-Soviet CIS took part in Sweden ‘92. But as Ukraine, it’s two finals, two group stages, two goals scored - they’ll be aiming to make a bigger splash this time around.
The hope stems from being as organised and tough to break down as possible, the team happy to cede possession in favour of a powerful counter-attacking style where the goals are shared around the team and runs from deep are difficult to track.
It’s either a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2 for Shevchenko the coach, depending on who he wants supporting the attack, and the team’s aim is always to make life as difficult as possible for the opposition.
Having had a great run of results for around two years through the Nations League and Euro 2020 qualifying - where they went unbeaten in the group and finished top ahead of Portugal - it has been a sticky last 12 months. Ukraine head into June with just one win from the last 11, though that was against Spain, to highlight their capacity to survive and thrive.
But elsewhere it has been decidedly mixed. Ukraine earned the same 1-1 result against world champions France that they did against Bahrain. If confidence was boosted by the draw against Didier Deschamps’ side at the start of World Cup qualifying, it has probably been hit since by earning just a point also against each of Finland and Kazakhstan.
This is both the strength and the weakness of Ukraine: they can absolutely irritate the bigger nations, but when asked to take control of the game against perhaps inferior sides, do they have the creativity, the consistency and the clinical edge on the ball to take the victory? In a group where beating North Macedonia might be the difference between progression and an early summer break, that could be crucial.
Don’t be surprised if Shevchenko’s side look far more comfortable, and capable of progression, in their opening match against the Dutch than they do thereafter.
Sunday 13 June, 8pm - Netherlands vs Ukraine
Thursday 17 June, 2pm - Ukraine vs North Macedonia
Monday 21 June, 5pm - Ukraine vs Austria
Goalkeepers: Georgiy Bushchan (Dynamo Kyiv), Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Anatolii Trubin (Shakhtar Donetsk).
Defenders: Eduard Sobol (Club Brugge), Illia Zabarnyi (Dynamo Kyiv), Serhiy Kryvtsov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Denys Popov (Dynamo Kyiv), Oleksandr Tymchyk (Dynamo Kyiv), Vitaliy Mykolenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Oleksandr Karavaev (Dynamo Kyiv), Mykola Matviyenko (Shakhtar Donetsk).
Midfielders: Serhiy Sydorchuk (Dynamo Kyiv), Ruslan Malinovskyi (Atalanta), Mykola Shaparenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Marlos (Shakhtar Donetsk), Yevhen Makarenko (Kortrijk), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City), Viktor Tsygankov (Dynamo Kyiv), Taras Stepanenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Andriy Yarmolenko (West Ham), Oleksandr Zubkov (Ferencváros), Heorhii Sudakov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Roman Bezus (Gent).
Forwards: Roman Yaremchuk (Gent), Artem Besedin (Dynamo Kyiv), Artem Dovbyk (Dnipro-1).
Ones to watch
Mykola Matviyenko. Unsurprisingly given their style, a centre-back could take centre stage in this team - Matviyenko is excellent. He reads the game well, is technically strong, comfortable in the channel and as committed as anyone in the squad.
Anatolii Trubin. Shevchenko hasn’t quite settled on an absolute guaranteed starter in goal - but Ukraine have finally moved on from the eternal-seeming Andriy Pyatov being the non-negotiable first choice, after a decade of flapping and floundering. 19-year-old Trubin has started the last couple of games and it would be a big call to make him the No.1 at the Euros but he has displaced Pyatov at club level with Shakhtar, so it would be fitting to see him do the same for the national team.
Odds to win tournament- 80/1
Not enough goals to really make an impact unless they have a new tactical trick up their sleeves. They might be one of the unfortunate few to come third, but not make it through. Out at the group stage.
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