by Tom Lees - 26th March 2016
Mykhaylo Fomenko will go into the tournament with an experienced squad, but will he find room for some of the younger stars?
With the 2016 European Championships now just a few months away, here at FanFormation, we will be taking a close look at each Nation competing and how they fare once the big event in France kicks off. As part of our pre-tournament preview, we will be going through each Country and highlighting three of the youngsters, on the fringes of selection, who will be hoping to make their Nations final squad.
Our focus today is on Ukraine, a nation that has qualified for the European Championships for the first time. Their only other appearance coming as hosts in 2012, where they failed to make it past the group stage.
The Ukraine squad is full of experienced names and is desperate need of new young stars to revitalise them. This may have to wait until after the tournament however as the established names have one last chance to achieve glory in France this summer. They will be heavily reliant on the star names of Andriy Yarmolenko and Evgen Konoplyanka to score their goals, and in midfield they have the quality of Shakhtar Donestk’s Taras Stepanenko to call upon to help them in their efforts to progress.
There are a few youngsters knocking on the door of selection though, hopeful of forcing their way into Mykhaylo Fomenko’s plans. Here are the three that I believe have the best chance of making it to France this summer.
Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Viktor Kovalenko is the next superstar of Ukrainian football, a player of great potential that burst onto the scene with a fantastic 2015. In that year he would make his professional debut for Shakhtar, represent his nation at three different age categories, compete in two summer international tournaments and was called up to the Ukrainian senior national team. Now in 2016, Kovalenko will be looking to push on to great things both with club and Country. Domestically Shakhtar are still in the hunt for the league and cup double, while in Europe they prepare for the quarter finals of the Europa league, it may be a tough task but it could be a historical year for the club and Kovalenko will be a major part if they are to achieve that. For his Country, Kovalenko still remains uncapped but has recently been called into the senior squad again for the upcoming friendly games and he’ll be keen to impress to press his claims for selection this summer.
A product of the Shakhtar youth system, Kovalenko was an impressive performer for the clubs Under 19 side in the Ukrainian youth league. He was rewarded for his progression with his first team debut for the club in February 2015 and would quickly establish himself as a regular in the match day squad. Shakhtar have a team with quality players in midfield positions and when appearing alongside them Kovalenko did not look out of place. An attacking midfielder primarily playing behind the frontmen, Kovalenko can also adopt a deeper role and operate in a more box to box fashion. Composed with the ball, great vision and the skill to hit a long range pass, Kovalenko can be a high energy, all action creative force for his teams. He also has proven a natural instinct for goal scoring, especially with some great long range strikes. He has shown great footballing intelligence already in his young career and looks set for a tremendous future.
Internationally Viktor Kovalenko has represented Ukraine at all youth levels and it’s his displays during these times that will really enhance his chances of selection in France this summer. In 2015 he took part in both the FIFA Under 20 World Cup and the UEFA European Under 19 Championship tournaments. Making a great impression during the Under 20 World Cup as he was awarded the golden boot for contributing 5 goals and 2 assists. It’s this tournament experience that head coach Mykhaylo Fomenko would love to bring into his squad, particularly in a talent such as Kovalenko. It could all come down to the next few months of the season, there are a number of high pressure fixtures ahead of the young midfielder and the ability to perform in these will really help his cause.
Another midfield star on the books of Shakhtar Donetsk is Oleksandr Karavaev, although he is yet to feature for Shakhtar as he has spent his time on a two-year loan spell to Zorya Lugansk. It’s his displays at Zorya that have pushed Karavaev into the Ukraine squad and upon his return to Donetsk at the end of his loan spell he’ll no doubt be a major player for the Hirnyky.
Beginning his youth career at Shakhtar, Karavaev went on to spend three seasons at FK Sevastopol where he gained valuable experience and playing time. After returning to his parent club in 2014 he was quickly loaned out again to Zorya Luganksk to gain top flight exposure, the move to Zorya has been hugely successful for the youngster. Regular top tier playing time and an introduction to European football too, Karavaev has adapted well to the challenge and produced some eye catching displays. Able to play on either flank, or cover in full back areas when required, Karavaev provides assurance, flexibility and a natural eye for goal scoring. A player that has progressed through the Ukraine national youth levels, Karavaev earnt his first senior caps in late 2015 coming off the bench. He is on the radar of the national selectors as we edge closer to the tournament and will be hoping that a strong end to his domestic season will see his inclusion in the side that travels to France.
Teenage playmaker Oleksandr Zinchenko has already managed to divide opinion among Ukraine fans, with his inclusion in the national team for a qualifier against Spain seen as a political manoeuvre in some quarters. Suggestions had been made that Zinchenko was about to be offered Russian citizenship, and that the Ukraine selectors were forced to fast track his selection. Also there were rumours that his international bow was a way of forcing a move for the youngster back to Ukraine with Dynamo Kiev, as he would now be considered a foreign national in the Russian leagues where he currently plays. This is all speculation and rumour as it stands, but what is for sure is that young Oleksandr Zinchenko is a player of great potential who can become a star for Ukraine for many years to come.
A product of the Shakhtar Donetsk youth system, Zinchenko first caught the eye with some impressive displays for the club in the 2013/14 UEFA Youth League. He was also a regular with the Ukraine youth sides at Under 17 and Under 19 levels. However, Zinchenko would never go on to represent Shakhtar Donetsk at senior level, instead moving to Russian side FK Ufa in February 2015 where he has been a regular in the team since. Small of stature, Zinchenko likes to always be involved in play where he can make the most of his array of passing skills and great vision. Technically he is gifted, although a little too reliant on his left foot, but he has great control and ability to find space in tight areas to utilise his skills with ball. A fine crosser of the ball, particularly from set piece situations he is a player that helps create numerous goal scoring opportunities for his team mates. His small frame and lack of strength could be an issue against heavyweight opposition, but he is an exciting attacking talent that the Ukrainian fans will enjoy watching over the coming years.
Internationally Zinchenko has progressed from the Under 19 side to the Under 21’s before making his full international debut as a late substitute in October 2015. He remains a real wildcard potential selection for this summer’s tournament and it may be that his chance will have to wait until Ukraine qualify for their next major finals.
OTHER PLAYERS OF NOTE
In goal Pyatov and Boyko are the experienced names that are guaranteed selection, but as a third choice option Mykyta Shevchenko who is on loan at Zorya Lugansk from Shakhtar will be confident he can make the trip. He is still uncapped but has been getting good game time at Zorya and has experienced the national squad in recent times.
Ukraine have a fairly established defensive unit, but if any opportunities present themselves then Ivan Ordets of Shakhtar and Mykyta Burda of Dynamo Kyiv will be ready to step up to the plate. Burda in particular has shown an ability to cover across the entire defensive line which will improve his chances, but unlike Ordets he is yet to feature for the national team before. Both are outside chances though and their hopes rely on the misfortune of others.
In midfield Maksym Malyshev of Shakhtar has recently earnt his debut for Ukraine and has the ability to cover the defensive line of required, but is more commonly known for a central role in the middle of the park. His hopes will be high after making his debut, but will require a strong end to the season for his club to keep his name on the selectors list. His fellow Shakhtar midfielder Ruslan Malinovsky has recently moved to KRC Genk on loan to gain extra playing time and the attacking midfielder will fancy his chances of impressing enough to make the trip. His early tenure in Belgium has been encouraging but there are not many games left before the final squad is named by coach Fomenko. Ivan Petryak is another midfielder who has recently been awarded his international debut, but the Zorya Lugansk wide man will be up against it to force his way into the final reckoning. His club form has been decent but may be slightly short of consistent quality to push himself ahead of more established names.
There we have it, our look at the Ukraine youngsters hoping to feature in the Championships this summer, how do you think they will fare in the tournament? Do you think these youngsters will make the final selection? Let us know in the comments section below.
Ukraine are drawn in Group C alongside Poland, Northern Ireland and World Champions Germany. It will be a tough group to qualify from with Germany the big favourites and Poland being many people’s dark horses for a good tournament. Even Northern Ireland have proven in qualification that they can cause any team problems. The opening fixture for Ukraine will be against the Germans in Lille on June 12th, and they’ll be hoping to catch the World Champions cold and get some early points on the board.