Ukraine vs Wales – Match Preview

Ukraine vs Wales – Match Preview

Manuel Veth –

It is perhaps the miss of the century as Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Stepanenko managed to miss the net from five meters out (watch it here) in Ukraine’s friendly match against Cyprus on Friday. In the 28th minute, Dnipro striker Roman Zozulya stepped around his defender, and unleashed a low drive on net. Cyprus keeper Constantinos Panagi managed to save the shot, but gave up a juicy rebound, Stepanenko reached the ball first, and as Ukraine’s fans began to prepare for the goal celebration, Stepanenko overshot the net from five meters out.

Just 13 minutes later, however, Stepanenko redeemed himself (watch it here). As a Ukraine free kick sailed high into the box, Panagi spilled the beans again as he was unable to catch the ball, and Stepanenko managed to put the ball away from a meter out—this time physics would have made a miss impossible.

Stepanenko’s goal would be the only goal of the night, however, as Ukraine coach Mykhaylo Fomenko used the match to test five new players. The 27-year-old defender Artem Putivtsev, who plays in Poland for LKS Nieciecza, started the match in defence. During halftime Fomenko brought on midfielders Ivan Petryak (Zorya Luhansk), Maksim Malyshev, and Viktor Kovalenko (both Shakhtar Donetsk). Then in the 80th minute 30-year-old defender Mykyta Kamenuka (Zorya Luhansk) made his debut for the national team.

The substitutions in the second half would mean, however, that the flow of the game was often interrupted. As a result it is difficult to evaluate Ukraine’s current level of play.

Yarmolenko Often Wants to Much

What was, however, notable is that Ukraine lacks creativity when playing without Yevhen Konoplyanka—he is currently out with a muscle injury. Andriy Yarmolenko also seems to struggle when playing without Konoplyanka. Yarmolenko had six shots on goal, but often times overlooked teammates who were better positioned. In the second half he completely disappeared.

Yarmolenko’s skill level is without question, but without Konoplyanka, Yarmolenko seems to want to take on the opposition on his own. It is not yet certain how long Konoplyanka will be out, but Ukraine would certainly suffer at the European Championships without him in the line-up.

Yevhen Konoplyanka will be missing the match due to an injury - Image via Marca

Yevhen Konoplyanka will be missing the match due to an injury – Image via Marca

Fomenko stated after the game versus Cyprus that he “was happy with the result”, but that the game itself was not good.

Next Ukraine will play Wales—which tied Northern Ireland on Thursday—on Monday March 28 in Kyiv. Like Ukraine, Wales have qualified for Euro 2016—their first qualification for a major tournament since 1958—and the Dragons, coached by Chris Coleman, will provide a more difficult test for the Ukrainians than Cyprus.

Wales will, however, be without Real Madrid superstar winger Gareth Bale, who will remain in Spain to regain his fitness after an injury. The major story line in Wales has not been Bale, but rather Coleman, whose excellent work with the Welsh national team has not been unnoticed with several Premier League teams.

Despite Bale’s Absence Ukraine vs Wales Should be an Interesting Match

Coleman, however, told the BBC “All I can say is that I am totally focused on Wales, totally committed as I’ve always been, looking forward to these games coming up and its all about building towards this tournament. That’s all that matters.”

Chris Coleman - Image via Sky

Chris Coleman – Image via Sky

Regardless, the Ukraine vs Wales on Monday should provide for a fascinating match up between two teams that have met only twice before—they were in the same group for the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, and both matches ended 1-1.

Wales hopes that the match against Ukraine can serve as a good preparation match for Wales’ encounter with Russia, one of their opponents in Group B, as Coleman told the BBC “It is quite obvious to see the similarities with Russia so we’re trying to mirror the games in the tournament with the preparation games.” This might not be the most popular statement in Ukraine considering the difficult political situation between Ukraine and Russia at the moment. Yet there are indeed similarities, as there are between Ukraine and Slovakia—Wales’ other opponent in Group B.

Meanwhile Ukraine, which are drawn in Group C, hope that Wales’ style can prepare Fomenko’s team for their encounter with Northern Ireland. Both Wales and Northern Ireland play the typical British style of football, which can at times be difficult for opponents that seek to find technical solutions to win a game. In the past Ukraine has often struggled when meeting teams that preferred a more physical style of play, and it will be interesting to see what Fomenko can learn from the match on Monday.

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and PhD candidate at King’s College London. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. His thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be available to readers later this year. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.