Ukraine

Україна / Ukrayina / Ukraine

  • Capital: Kyiv / Kiev / Київ
  • Official Languages: Ukrainian
  • Nicknames: Головна команда (The Main Team); Жовто-Сині (The Yellow and Blue)
  • Association: Українська асоціація футболу / Ukrainian Association of Football (UAF)
  • FIFA Code: UKR

Records

  • Best World Cup Result (Men): Quarter Finals (2006)
  • Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
  • Best Euros Result (Men): Group Stage (2012, 2016)
  • Best Euros Result (Women): Group Stage (2009)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 11th (February 2007)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 16th (June 2008)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 132nd (September 1993)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 27th (March-June 2017)
  • Most Capped Player: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk – 144 caps
  • Top Scorer: Andriy Shevchenko – 48 goals

The Republic of Ukraine is a relatively new country in international football having broken free in 1991 after the fracturing and dissolution of the former Soviet Union. However during the Soviet era, the country produced many, many excellent players for the CCCP team, such as the iconic Oleg Blokhin, who is widely regarded as the best player to come from ‘Beyond the Iron Curtain‘. Whilst Dynamo Kviv (the symbolic club of Ukraine during the Soviet era) being the strongest and most successful team in the Soviet Top League having won the title on 13 occasions, as well as winning a number of European trophies. Their fortunes were inspired by one of the greatest ever coaches in football history, led by the revolutionary Valeriy Lobanovskyi, who had a massive impact on Soviet and then Ukrainian football, and whose teachings are still taught and applied today.

Ukraine’s golden era occurred in the first decades of the 21st century. With a core of players who progressed under Lobanovskyi’s tutorage at Dynamo Kyiv, they reached their first World Cup as an independent nation by qualifying for the 2006 World Cup and reached the quarter finals. Led by one of Europe’s greatest-ever forwards in Andriy Shevchenko, the Ukrainian team was one of the strongest in the European game. Sadly as that golden core retired, Ukraine’s fortunes have dipped despite qualifying for two consecutive European Championships. However an upturn in fortunes with the Ukrainian team led by Shevchenko again (this time from the dugout), resulting in some impressive results against some of Europe’s top teams, means that Ukraine are potentially one of the most exciting teams to focus upon in the next decade.

To talk about one of the most potentially exciting sides in European football, who is led by a national legend and could be a dark horse in the upcoming European Championships, we interviewed Andrew Todos from the excellent Zorya Londonsk. Zorya Londonsk is the number 1 source for all news involving Ukrainian football in the English language, whilst also being involved in the excellent Ukrfut24 podcast. To find their website and social media accounts, follow the links below:

Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?

Andriy Shevchenko

There’s only one answer to the best player question. Sheva. Ukraine’s all time top scorer Andriy Shevchenko stands high above the rest as the greatest player to represent the country as an independent nation. He scored 48 goals in 111 caps, taking Ukraine to their first ever World Cup and European Championships in 2006 and 2012 respectively. The AC Milan & Dynamo Kyiv legend also won the Ballon D’Or in 2004, becoming the third Ukrainian in history to do so following Oleh Blokhin & Ihor Belanov (who won the award during Soviet times). So not only is he the greatest Ukrainian player of all time – he was also the best in the world at one point in history!

It may remains too early to discuss Shevchenko as Ukraine’s greatest manager just yet. However Ukraine have blossomed under his tenure since taking over in 2016. Let’s see where he takes Ukraine at Euro 2020 and Qatar 2022 and then the next answer might have to be revised.

Oleh Blokhin

For now though, Oleh/Oleg Blokhin, someone who would run Shevchenko close in the playing stakes too (the USSR’s record caps holder and goalscorer), takes the managerial crown! He oversaw Ukraine’s maiden (and so far only) World Cup voyage, navigating a difficult qualifying group back in 2004-05 which featured Turkey and the defedning European champions Greece before reaching the quarter finals of Germany ‘06. Blokhin returned for the 2012 Euros which Ukraine co-hosted with Poland. Whilst, this was arguably a bit of a disaster with Ukraine not making it out the group, the memories of Blokhin embracing a brace-scoring Shevchenko in the Olympiyskyi will forever be etched into Ukrainian fans’ memories!

Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?

Oleksandr Shovkovskiy

Oleksandr Shovkovskiy. Always First.

Shova is a legendary goalkeeper for both Dynamo Kyiv and Ukraine. Many view him as the greatest Ukrainian keeper in history and he was ever present in the Ukraine squad throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

He holds a unique World Cup record of being the only goalkeeper to have not conceded a goal in a finals penalty shoot out – shutting out all three Swiss attempts in Ukraine’s Round of 16 penalties win in 2006! Whilst that has him etched into Ukraine’s footballing folklore, he recently made global headlines again despite retiring back in 2015. Back in October 2020, the 46 year old, now a member of Shevchenko’s backroom staff, was called into the Ukraine squad as a reserve keeper after a COVID outbreak. Unfortunately, he wasn’t gifted any minutes as Ukraine succumbed to a 7-1 loss at the hands of France in a friendly.

Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Ukraine currently?

Ruslan Malinovskyi

Many would moot Andriy Yarmolenko, with the West Ham winger just 9 goals off Shevchenko’s all time tally. However, injuries have caused the talisman to wain in recent years.

As such, Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi has been Ukraine’s key player of late. The 27 year old attacking midfielder, has a rocket of a left foot. His long shots and set pieces are always a danger. He was a key feature of the side that went unbeaten during 2019 by linking midfield and attack in Ukraine’s build up play, whilst contributing with a few key goals and assists along the way too.

Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?

Ukraine is arguably in the midst of its greatest period in recent history. Whilst the golden generation era was certainly that 2006 World Cup squad, Shevchenko’s men look to be dark horses going into the delayed European Championships.

They went unbeaten in the qualifying campaign for this tournament, most notably defeating reigning European and UEFA Nations League champions Portugal, and demolishing Serbia 5-0 in the process. In 2020, they debuted in League A of the Nations League and famously defeated Spain during that campaign despite being dilapidated due to a COVID outbreak.

There’s no world-class, Shevchenko-esque player in the side this time around but that seems to be the magic of this squad. The glory comes from the sum of all its parts!

Q. Are there any Ukrainian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?

Viktor Tsyhankov

Whilst he’s not exactly the youngest player anymore, a lot is expected of Dynamo Kyiv winger Viktor Tsyhankov. The 23 year old is expected to leave his boyhood club in the summer and test himself out in one of Europe’s top leagues. This is something his predecessor Andriy Yarmolenko ended up doing too late in his career.

Tsyhankov, is a pacey wideman who has an eye for goal. He’s got great delivery and can finish from anywhere in and around the penalty area. He’s also versatile so can play on either wing but he does favour the right hand side.

Q. Looking at Ukraine’s international history as an independent country, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?

There are many that stand out. In recent history the wins over Portugal and Spain at the Olympiyskyi were sensational. Ukraine upsetting the odds to defeat two European giants will always be games recollected fondly. However, if looking back on Ukraine’s entire history stretching from its first game in 1992 to the present, it’s difficult to look beyond the ‘Game of the Century’.

Ukraine 3-2 Russia – September 5th 1998

This game was the first meeting between the countries on the pitch since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. During Soviet times, the great rivalry between the two countries was Dynamo Kyiv versus Spartak Moscow. Whilst that continued in the UEFA Champions League following independence, the national team showdown added a new dimension!

With the collapse of the USSR, Russia became the sole heir of the Soviet Union’s footballing legacy in FIFA’s eyes. They took all the coefficient points, and due to a silly rule in place back then, if you were born anywhere in the USSR, you could play for ANY successor state you chose, meaning it lured a number of Ukraine’s top footballers away to play for Russia during the 1990s too! (Albeit in hindsight, good riddance to that lot!)

So this 1998 fixture had a heavy sporting but also political undertone to it. It was a Euro 2000 qualifier too. In front of over 100,000 fans at the old Republican stadium in Kyiv (now the Olympiyskyi) – Ukraine beat its neighbour 3-2!

Due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and it’s war in Eastern Ukraine, the sides cannot meet on the pitch again so this result will continue to live long in the memory!

Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?

One performance that sums up Ukraine’s lowest ebb as a side. That came at Euro 2016 as Ukraine was knocked out of the competition after just 2 games following a shock 2-0 loss to Northern Ireland. Having witnessed that game live in Lyon – it doesn’t get much worse than that! It summed up an embarrassing display at the European Championships as a whole. Bowing out after three games with zero points and zero goals scored.

A game and tournament that Ukraine and fans alike would like to forget!

Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Ukrainian national team?

Best thing about being a national team fan is definitely the ardent support that travels across Europe to follow the team. The atmosphere at matches, especially since the war began, has been spine-tingling with many Ultras setting aside their club differences, uniting against a common enemy. As a result, there’s a real feeling of patriotism and passion whenever the national team plays, be that home or away. For example, in September 2019, Ukraine played Lithuania away in Vilnius. The stadium there only held 5,000 but 3/4 of it were filled with Ukrainians and those who didn’t have a ticket were in the trees and hills outside. Something akin to a home game!

Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?

A popular chant sung at games home and away is ‘Putin Huylo‘. It basically goes ‘Putin Huyloooo lalalalalalalalalalala’ on repeat. Huylo translates into English as ‘d*ckhead’ so ‘Putin is a d*ckhead.’

Other than that the national anthem that gets a rendition towards the end of every game, a popular song also sung throughout games is called ‘Chervona Ruta’ – a Ukrainian pop song from the 1960s which embodies the Ukrainian spirit.

More recently the fans and players have adopted the Icelandic Clap as a post match communal celebration.
U – KRA – I – NA!

Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?

Back during the first lockdown, we compiled the first and so far only comprehensive history of Ukraine kits. You can find it on our website: https://zoryalondonsk.com/2020/03/29/ukraine-all-the-kits/

We did a number of polls on Twitter and Instagram with the public winners being the Adidas Euro 2012 home and the Lotto World Cup 2006 home kits.

Whilst both are iconic and provide great memories, for us, our favourite kit is Ukraine’s 1996 Umbro offering. As we favour retro kits, this one is the most aesthetically pleasing! Albeit if we had to choose something more recent we’d have to go for Ukraine’s one-off white third kit from Joma that they wore in a friendly versus Nigeria in 2019

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Ukrainian national team?

I believe that Ukraine is entering / has entered a new golden generation. No single superstar but a team of great players who work well together.

The Euros this year should provide the litmus test for how far this side has come following the disastrous Euro 2016 campaign and how much growth it has made under Shevchenko’s management. A quarter final finish is the bare minimum many are expecting. Then following that, a second ever World Cup campaign in Qatar wouldn’t go amiss either albeit a tough qualifying group awaits with France and Bosnia involved!

A massive Дякую to Andrew from the superb Zorya Londonsk for answering our questions on the Yellow and Blue. Remember you can find their excellent website and social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s