Ukraine bring two up top back to make Euros history against Sweden

By Sports Desk June 29, 2021

If Tuesday's first knockout game at Euro 2020 was billed as a battle to secure a straightforward run to the final, the late kick-off was all about Ukraine and Sweden seizing an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.

After overcoming their old rivals Germany at Wembley Stadium, England will be strongly favoured to reach the competition's showpiece by progressing through the kindest side of the draw.

Yet every other nation alongside them will also sense the possibility of making history at a tournament that has already seen its fair share of upsets.

It is Ukraine who will get the chance to shock the Three Lions in Rome on Saturday, having claimed a 2-1 win over Sweden with a goal in stoppage time of extra time.

And, though Andriy Shevchenko's side did not produce the most convincing of performances in winning, they showed enough to prove that they may yet keep a dream run going.

 

Two up top back in fashion

Strike pairings are often considered a relic of a bygone era but both Ukraine and Sweden started this game with two up top.

Swedish duo Alexander Isak and Emil Forsberg were arguably the more threatening throughout, with the latter in particular continuing his remarkable tournament.

The RB Leipzig midfielder took six shots - twice as many as any other player on the pitch managed - across the 120 minutes as he led the way. Those attempts returned one goal - Forsberg's fourth of the competition - but he would have been celebrating a victory had two fine efforts not cannoned back off the post in the second half.

As for Ukraine, they began with captain Andriy Yarmolenko alongside Roman Yaremchuk, and both showed why they might cause problems for opponents deeper into the competition.

The pair laid on a shot apiece for each other across their time on the pitch together, while Yarmolenko picked out a beauty of an assist for Oleksandr Zinchenko's opening goal.

That meant the West Ham man has now been directly involved in five goals for Ukraine at major tournaments (2 goals, 3 assists); the joint-most of any player for the country, along with his current manager Shevchenko (5).

As for Shevchenko the tactician, he was rewarded for sticking to his guns by keeping men in the Swedish box as Yarmolenko's replacement Artem Dovbyk headed home the winner.

England's defenders know they will have their hands full when they come up against Ukraine's forwards this weekend.

 

Lack of experience could hurt Ukraine

Prior to this outing, Ukraine had lost seven of their past eight European Championship games.

The only exception was the victory over minnows North Macedonia in their group that proved just enough to bring them to the knockout stages of this year's tournament.

Never before have the Ukrainians gone this deep at a Euros, nor have they ever done better than reaching the quarter-finals in World Cup history, doing so in 2006 when their manager Shevchenko was part of the squad a player.

That lack of experience and the extra minutes in the legs provided by extra time at Hampden Park will surely encourage England.

Gareth Southgate's side are aiming to follow up a World Cup semi-final in 2018 with another deep run at a major competition - know-how could be crucial.

Ukraine are not the only team still left standing who had to work overtime to progress, either. Their clash with Sweden was the fourth Euro 2020 last-16 tie to finish level at the end of 90 minutes (also Italy v Austria, Croatia v Spain and France v Switzerland), the most ever in a single knockout round.

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    Christian the Great (Dane)

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    2 - Riccardo #Calafiori (22 years and 27 days) is the second youngest Italy’s defender to play a match in European Championships history, after Paolo Maldini (19 years and 350 days, on 10th June 1988 against Germany). Impulse. #EURo2024 #ITAALB #ItaliaAlbania pic.twitter.com/2kKWNHW1iS

    — OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) June 15, 2024

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    Spain had less possession than their opponents (47 per cent) for the first time in a competitive match since the Euro 2008 final against Germany (46 per cent), ending a run of 136 games in which they had more of the ball.

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    7 - Only Cesc Fàbregas (8 - 3 goals, 5 assists) has been involved in more #EUROs goals for #Spain  than Álvaro Morata (7 - 7 goals, the same as Fernando Torres and David Silva). Reference. #Euro2024 pic.twitter.com/dfGTdjuai3

    — OptaJose (@OptaJose) June 15, 2024

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Italy - Nicolo Barella

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    10 - Among the players currently in the Italian national team  Nicolò #Barella has scored the most goals for the Azzurri (10). Star. #EURo2024 #ITAALB pic.twitter.com/B2RIhHFw2H

    — OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) June 15, 2024

    The saying of the battle being won in midfield is often thrown around rather lazily in modern football, but this certainly could be the case in Gelsenkirchen. 

    Spain - Fabian Ruiz

    Attempting to halt the Italian midfield will be Ruiz, who marked his 24th appearance for his country with just his third international goal against Croatia. 

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