Andriy Shevchenko's Ukraine beat Sweden 2-1 in the last-16

Credit: AFP

So it’s Ukraine in the quarter-finals. Gareth Southgate will be delighted, won’t he?

If this tournament has taught us anything, it is that reputations have counted for little. France, Germany and Portugal – all members of the Group of Death that was supposed to produce the eventual winner, remember – have exited the competition, along with Holland, beaten by the Czech Republic, who England edged past in the group stage. Italy and Spain only just survived scares against Austria and Croatia. So underestimate Ukraine – who have reached only their second major tournament quarter-final – at your peril. 

They are looking to do to England what Switzerland did to world champions France in the last-16. “England are a great team, they have a deep bench, an outstanding coaching staff and we are fully aware how tough this game is going to be,” Andriy Shevchenko, the Ukraine coach, said after Artem Dovbyk’s winner in the second of three minutes of stoppage time at the end of extra-time which secured a dramatic 2-1 victory over Sweden at Hampden Park: “I saw all their three group matches – not the win over Germany yet because we had to prepare for our own game with Sweden – and they are incredibly difficult to score against. But their strength shouldn’t scare us. It should motivate us because everything is possible in football, as in life, and we will play our hearts out to give our fans even more to cheer about.”

Do England have any immediate advantage?

Southgate will have been delighted to see Ukraine’s game against Sweden go to extra-time, all the more so given the blistering pace the first 90 minutes was played at. It was an enthralling, end-to-end game and Ukraine, having rode their luck on occasion against the Swedes, may feel the affects of that during training over the next day or two. Incredibly, Ukraine ended up using six substitutes. Shevchenko and his squad are due to make the flight to Rome on Wednesday afternoon and, while they will doubtless be riding a wave of euphoria in the Italian capital, an additional 30 minutes of energy-sapping football in their legs could yet make a difference come the latter stages of Saturday’s quarter-final. Or at least Southgate will hope it does if the game is still in the balance come the second half. 

Euros – Road to the final

How do Ukraine play?

Shevchenko had played 4-3-3 in Ukraine’s three group games but sprung a surprise by switching to a back three on Tuesday, a system with which he had experimented with some success during the World Cup qualifiers in March. The aim was to stymie Sweden’s talented front pairing of Alexander Isak and Dejan Kulusevski, flood the midfield, free up Andriy Yarmolenko and release Oleksandr Zinchenko from left-wing back, so the sight of the Manchester City player scoring the first and delivering the cross for Dovbyk to claim the winner was handsome vindication for Shevchenko. It was not a foolproof plan – Sweden created chances, hit the woodwork twice, and should have scored more and Ukraine had particular difficulty trying to shackle Emil Forsberg, who drifted in from a nominal station of left to excellent effect, a source of encouragement no doubt for England’s man of the moment, Raheem Sterling. But it worked in the main and Shevchenko must be tempted to adopt a similar system against England, particularly as Zinchenko looked so much more effective out wide than in the middle.

Oleksandr Zinchenko – he will be familiar to many in the England team, won’t he?

Four of Zinchenko’s Manchester City team-mates are key figures for England – Sterling, Phil Foden, John Stones and Kyle Walker – and the Ukrainian cannot wait to come up against them. “I will be so happy to see my [club] team-mates but, as soon as we go on the pitch, there are no friends,” Zinchenko said. 

Oleksandr Zinchenko (R) has impressed for Ukraine in the tournament

Credit: AFP

An attacking midfielder by trade, Zinchenko has been reinvented as a full-back by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City to impressive effect, and it is testament to the player’s intelligence, attitude and application that he has managed to flourish in that role. Shevchenko played him in midfield in the group stages but Zinchenko struggled. From left-wing back, though, he was a far greater threat against Sweden, ghosting into the penalty area to rifle home a cross from Yarmolenko and putting the ball on a plate for Dovbyk to score in the 121st minute. It was a cathartic moment personally for Zinchenko, who had been frustrated by some of the criticism directed at him. “It’s difficult for me to adjust because a lot of criticism was poured on the whole team and on me in particular,” he said. “Now we have proved to the whole of Europe that we can achieve our goals.”

Where are Ukraine’s other threats?

Yarmolenko, most obviously. He may have disappointed at West Ham last season, in part due to injury, but he remains Shevchenko’s go-to man, even if he divides opinion sharply in Ukraine. A mercurial presence, Yarmolenko nevertheless has 42 goals for his country – two of which have come in this tournament – and will be in line for his 99th cap against England. Comfortable out wide or through the middle, he underlined his creative threat for Ukraine’s first goal against Sweden when he brushed a lovely pass with the outside of his left boot into the path of Zinchenko to score. He has also forged a good understanding with the Gent striker, Roman Yaremchuk, who seems to have found some form and goals at this tournament. Mykola Shaparenko also looks at home in a deeper play-making role and it was his sublime cross-field pass that opened the way for the first goal against Sweden.

Andriy Yarmolenko is a mercurial presence for Ukraine

Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

Shevchenko surprised many by starting without Ruslan Malinovskyi against Sweden and it remains to be seen if he is restored in Rome. Linked with a move to Chelsea, the attacking midfielder finished the season in fine form for Atalanta and is one of Ukraine’s brightest talents. Sweden are not the easiest side to break down – just ask Spain – but Ukraine had some joy getting in behind their full-backs and they can manipulate space well.

What are their weaknesses?

Southgate will need to think carefully about his system and choice of full-backs because there is certainly space in behind Ukraine’s wing-backs to exploit should Shevchenko stick with a back three. Ukraine also struggled against Austria’s physicality and tough defensive lines and it was noticeable that Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire’s centre-half partner, had joy bringing the ball out from the back for Sweden, at one point bursting forward unchecked for 30 yards and finding Forsberg, who then hit the woodwork. Maguire and Stones will be encouraged by that. Defender Ilya Zabarnyi, at just 18, is a talent in the making but he is young and inexperienced and fellow centre-backs, Serhiy Kryvtsov and Mykola Matviyenko, both of whom play for Shakhtar Donetsk, may be vulnerable if England can get quick attackers playing in and around Harry Kane. 

Dovbyk made himself a national hero in Ukraine with that winner – should England beware of him?

“We have three strikers in the squad so competition for a place is strong but I’ll fight for it,” Dovbyk said in the run-up to Euro 2020. “If I get my chance, I’ll definitely score.” Well he certainly honoured that promise. Tournaments often have a habit of making heroes out of the most unlikely figures – Toto Schillaci at Italia 90 anyone? – and Dovbyk, who had only been on the pitch 15 minutes before his goal, certainly now fits the category for Ukraine, even if he will be hoping to go one better against England. Dovbyk is a little unusual in that he rose to the top of Ukrainian football without spending any time at either Dynamo Kiev or Shakhtar Donetsk, the country’s two biggest clubs, instead coming through the ranks at Cherkaskyi Dnipro and is not what anyone would consider a rising star. Now 24, he has plied his trade in the Moldovan and Danish leagues and the Ukrainian second division and had only belatedly forced his way into Shevchenko’s squad in March, when he managed a total of 51 minutes against Bahrain and Kazakhstan. He is unlikely to start against England but he will not be short of motivation or confidence if he comes on again.

Will Chelsea flop Andriy Shevchenko have a point to prove against the English?

Almost certainly, even if Shevchenko – who is quite the diplomat – is unlikely to shout about it. A Champions League winner with AC Milan, the Ballon d’Or winner in 2004 and, for a long time, one of Europe’s most feared strikers, Shevchenko, a close friend of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, managed just nine goals in 48 Premier League appearances for the west London club during a miserable three-year spell following a £30 million move from Milan. Despite being one of his country’s most famous figures, Shevchenko – who lives in London, has an American wife and speaks English, Russian and Italian – has been criticised for being unable to speak Ukrainian at a sensitive time politically when issues of national identity invite so much emotion and debate. 

Euro 2021 – Group C – Ukraine full squad