Examining Ukraine’s Domestic Players

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Mark Temnycky –

Last month, Futbolgrad examined Ukraine’s national team players who currently compete in the top ten European leagues. These athletes played an important role in Ukraine’s UEFA Nations League and Euro 2020 qualification campaigns. These footballers, however, only made up a third of the Ukrainian national team between 2018 and 2020. With this in mind, who are Ukraine’s national team players that compete in the domestic Ukrainian Premier Liha?

Fans of Ukrainian football will not be surprised to read that the remaining national team players hail from the UPL’s two most successful clubs: Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk. In recent history, these two clubs have traded places in the UPL, Ukrainian Super Cup and Ukrainian Cup trophies. Given their successes, it is no wonder why their players comprise a large portion of the Ukrainian national team. Futbolgrad will examine Dynamo first, and Shakhtar will follow.

Dynamo Kyiv

Between 2018 and 2020, Dynamo Kyiv won the Ukrainian Super Cup on two occasions, and they will compete in the 2020 Ukrainian Cup Final. As for the UPL, Dynamo finished as runners up during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons. While Shakhtar have recently dominated Ukrainian football, Dynamo still have had a strong presence.

Defenders Oleksandr Karavayev, Vitaliy Mykolenko and Mykyta Burda played a role in Dynamo’s recent successes, and this transferred to their national team. Both Karavayev and Mykolenko started consistently throughout Ukraine’s Euro 2020 campaign, where the attacking fullbacks helped provide variance when the national taught sought to score goals. The defenders were also instrumental in helping Ukraine maintain an unbeaten record throughout the qualification period.

Moving on to midfield, Viktor Tsygankov was one of Ukraine’s most instrumental players, where he scored three goals in eight qualification matches. Serhiy Sydorchuk and Vitaliy Buyalskyi would compete for Ukraine during this period as well, although to a lesser extent.

Finally, forward Artem Besyedin helped score one of Ukraine’s most important goals in recent memory. During the final game of the Euro 2020 qualification campaign, and the final match of the 2019 calendar year, Ukraine trailed 2-1 to Serbia in stoppage time. Ukraine had previously gone undefeated in their qualification group, and for the entire year. In the match against Serbia, Besyedin would score a last-minute equalizer for Ukraine, and the game ended 2-2 at full time. The result meant that Ukraine had gone unbeaten throughout the entire qualification period (eight games), and the 2019 calendar year (10 matches). Outside of this achievement, however, Besyedin played a limited role in Ukraine’s qualification campaign.

Shakhtar Donetsk

Shakhtar Donetsk, like Dynamo, have also celebrated recent success. On 20 June 2020, the Miners retained the UPL title for a fourth consecutive season. Shakhtar also won the 2018 and 2019 Ukrainian Cups. The domestic successes of these Ukrainian footballers were transferred to the Ukrainian national team, and due to the resilience of these players, this helped Ukraine achieve impressive results in both the UEFA Nations League and the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

First, Ukrainian goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov only conceded four goals in eight Euro 2020 qualification matches, and he kept clean sheets in five of Ukraine’s eight qualification games. Pyatov has been known for some infamous blunders, but the goalkeeper was superb throughout the qualification campaign (he also kept two clean sheets in four Nations League matches).

Ahead of Ukraine’s goalkeeper were solid defenders. Mykola Matviyenko, who has recently attracted interest from numerous clubs abroad, played a significant role in Ukraine’s defensive achievements. Matviyenko was consistently paired with Serhiy Kryvtsov, where the two of them were always composed, and Serhiy Bolbat played a role in this strong defense as well.

Shakhtar’s midfield, however, were the most significant contributors. Veterans Yavhen Konoplyanka, Taras Stepanenko, Marlos and Viktor Kovalenko helped Ukraine score a series of goals during the Euro 2020 qualification period. The midfield quartet also provided a series of assists, which further contributed to their national team’s success. Finally, they worked to congest the midfield to ensure that their opposition would not gain momentum in these matches.

Combined Effects of Dynamo and Shakhtar

Between the two clubs, these footballers from Dynamo and Shakhtar helped Ukraine keep five clean sheets in eight Euro 2020 qualification matches, and two clean sheets in four UEFA Nations League games. The Ukrainians also only conceded four goals in eight qualification games, meaning their contribution was significant throughout both campaigns.

One may wonder how Ukraine would have fared at the 2020 European Championships had the tournament not been postponed. The success of the national team, particularly throughout the 2019 calendar year, made them surprise contenders for Euro 2020, but the tournament was rescheduled for the summer of 2021. Nonetheless, the contributions from the athletes mentioned above helped the national team achieve these successes, and these performances could be an indication as to how the Ukrainians will fare in 2021.

Finally, there is a third factor that led to Ukraine’s recent triumph. This is none other than Ukrainian manager Andriy Shevchenko. His contributions, tactics and role as Ukraine’s national team manager will be examined at a later date.

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