Mark Temnycky –
Serbia vs Ukraine – Sunday, November 17, 14:00 GMT/15:00 CET – Rajko Mitić Stadium, Belgrade, Serbia
The first round of the qualification process for Euro 2020 will conclude this weekend, and while Ukraine have qualified, Serbia have everything to play for on Matchday 8.
At the start of this qualification period, Serbia was paired with Portugal, Ukraine, Lithuania and Luxembourg in Group B. Pundits and fans alike tipped Portugal to win the group while Ukraine and Serbia would fight for the second qualification spot. What transpired, however, was much different. To everyone’s surprise, Ukraine won the group, and now Euro 2016 Champions Portugal have to fight with Serbia for the second qualification spot in Group B. The Serbians can still qualify directly for the competition, but they need help from their opponents.
Portugal currently lead Serbia by a point, but the Navigators have a vastly superior goal differential to the Eagles. To make things worse, Serbia will face Group B winners Ukraine on Matchday 8 while Portugal travel to Luxembourg. While the Luxembourgers have been stubborn this qualification cycle, where they nearly stole results from Ukraine and Serbia, it is unlikely the Benelux country will earn points against Portugal.
Stranger things have happened in football, but it seems unlikely that Serbia will qualify directly for the Euros. The Eagles would need to defeat Ukraine, and Luxembourg would have to either draw or defeat Portugal. Luckily for Serbia, they were victorious in their 2018/19 UEFA Nations League group, and this will present them with a second opportunity to qualify for the 2020 European Championships should they fail to do so this weekend.
Meanwhile, Ukraine won Group B and qualified for the 2020 European Championships. The Zbirna were simply remarkable this qualification period. Having played seven matches, the Ukrainians won six and drew once. Moreover, they kept five clean sheets in seven matches, and conceded only twice. Finally, the Zbirna scored 15 goals in seven matches, five of which came against the Eagles during their previous Euro qualification encounter in June.
Given their performances, Ukraine have been a joy to watch. Outside of their seven qualification matches this year, they also played two international friendlies against Nigeria and Estonia, thus extending their unbeaten run in 2019 to nine matches. Should Ukraine earn a result on Sunday, the Zbirna would go undefeated in 2019, and this would be the first time in Ukraine’s history that they have gone undefeated in a calendar year.
While achieving this feat may be intriguing, the Zbirna may opt for a different approach. Knowing they have qualified for the Euros next summer, the Zbirna may use the match against Serbia as an opportunity to field younger players and as a chance to experiment with their tactics. While it is only November, it is never too early to prepare for a major international competition.
Will Serbia defy the odds and qualify for the 2020 Euros, or will Ukraine achieve the remarkable feat of going undefeated in an entire calendar year?
Serbia vs Ukraine – Players to Watch:
Aleksandar Mitrović #9 – Serbia (Fulham)
Should Serbia have any hope of qualifying for the 2020 European Championships, they will need to rely on their current top-scorer, Aleksandar Mitrović. The forward has scored nine goals in seven Euro 2020 qualification matches, and he will look to add to his tally on Sunday.
Ruslan Malinovskyi #8 – Ukraine (Atalanta)
Having played nine international matches this calendar year, Ukraine are still undefeated in 2019. Central midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi, who typically looks to tidy up his Ukrainian defense, will hope to extend Ukraine’s unbeaten run as the Zbirna face the Eagles on the final matchday in Group B.
Serbia vs Ukraine – Match Statistics:
- This will be the fifth encounter between Serbia and Ukraine. The Ukrainians defeated the Serbians in the previous four matches.
- Serbia’s Filip Kostić and Milan Pavkov are injured.
- Ukraine are without the injured Denys Boyko, Mykyta Burda and Oleksandr Zinchenko. Yevhen Konoplyanka is doubtful. Taras Stepanenko, who earned a double booking in the match against Portugal, is suspended.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Serbia vs Ukraine – 2-2
Serbia vs Ukraine – Projected Lineups:
Dmitrović – Miletić, Milenković, Kolarov, Mladenović – Milivojević, Maksimović – Tadić, Milinković-Savić, Ljajić – Mitrović
Manager: Ljubiša Tumbaković
Lunin – Karavayev, Kryvtsov, Matviyenko, Sobol – Malinovskyi – Yarmolenko, Kovalenko, Shakhov, Tsygankov – Yaremchuk
Manager: Andriy Shevchenko
Mark Temnycky is an AIPS accredited journalist who covers the Ukrainian men’s national team and Ukrainian clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for the Futbolgrad Network. Follow him @MTemnycky