World Cup Qualifying Preview: Belarus - Ukraine
Ukraine will need...
Ukraine will need three points from their trip to Minsk to stay in the race for second place in World Cup Qualifying Group 6, according to Goal.com
Must Win Match For Ukraine
With just three games to go before the end of their World Cup qualifying campaign, Ukraine are still very much in the running to make their second consecutive appearance at the global jamboree next summer in South Africa. While it will be difficult to catch Group 6 leaders England, a runners-up spot, and with that the possibility of entering the play-offs, is still within reach.
Ukraine’s three remaining games are away against Belarus, England at home, and finally an easy-looking trip to Andorra. Second-placed Croatia are three points ahead but have played one game more, and their final two games are against England away and Kazakhstan away. Beating England is always tough, but home advantage could play a role, and the Andorra game is practically a guaranteed three points, so this trip to Belarus becomes absolutely crucial for Ukraine’s chances.
Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko’s team have made few mistakes in their qualifying campaign, getting the right results when they needed them, with perhaps the only misstep being the failure to beat their main competitors Croatia at home in October of last year. However, they cannot afford to let their guard drop, as this is a very competitive group, and they’ll have to fight until the end to make it to the finals.
Before the last World Cup in Germany, Ukraine were the first European team, aside from the hosts, to qualify for the tournament, and it was their first appearance at a major tournament as an independent nation. They ultimately crashed out at the quarter-final stage after a defeat to eventual champions Italy, but it was still a respectable display. However, they then failed to make it to Euro 2008, mostly because they were drawn in a nightmare qualifying group with both World Cup finalists Italy and France, as well as a stubborn Scottish team.
Things have looked better for Ukraine since Mykhaylychenko took over as coach, as they’ve managed to remain competitive all the way in another tough qualifying group. Nevertheless, his work will ultimately be judged on whether the team will manage to qualify for their second consecutive World Cup.
Belarus Capable Of Springing A Surprise Against Anyone
Although they have never made it to a major tournament finals at the senior level, Belarus are never to be underestimated, as in recent years they’ve caused several major teams big problems. They are certainly no pushovers, and usually finish at least fourth in World Cup or European qualifying groups.
In recent years they have beaten Holland at home, Scotland away, as well as defeating the likes of Poland and Turkey away from home. They were probably at their best in 2002, when they came agonizingly close to making it to the play-offs for the World Cup, and also managed to beat Hungary 5-2 away from home in a friendly.
In this World Cup qualifying campaign, however, they’ve had to acknowledge the superiority of teams like England, Croatia, and Ukraine, who won their first match against them at home 1-0. Two recent defeats against Croatia have practically canceled out any lingering hopes the Belarusians may have had of finishing second. Currently they are eight points behind second-placed Croatia, although Slaven Bilic’s team have played one game more.
Belarus remain a dangerous team with a number of quality players, most notably Stuttgart playmaker Aliaksandr Hleb and Bari hitman Vitali Kutuzov. There are few national teams who look forward to playing them, and you could see them qualifying for a tournament in the not too distant future. A testament to their increasing strength is that the outcome of a fixture like this is not a foregone conclusion by any means.
September 5 v Croatia (A) – LOST 1-0 (WCQ)
August 12 v Croatia (H) – LOST 3-1 (WCQ)
June 10 v Moldova (H) – DREW 2-2 (Friendly)
June 6 v Andorra (H) – WON 5-1 (WCQ)
April 1 v Kazakhstan (A) – WON 5-1 (WCQ)
September 5 v Andorra (H) – WON 5-0 (WCQ)
August 12 v Turkey (H) – LOST 3-0 (Friendly)
June 10 v Kazakhstan (H) – WON 2-1 (WCQ)
June 6 v Croatia (A) – DREW 2-2 (WCQ)
April 1 v England (A) – LOST 2-1 (WCQ)
Goalkeepers: Yuri Zhevnov, Anton Amelchenko, Pavel Chasnowski;
Defenders: Sergei Omelyanchuk, Egor Filipenko, Aliaksandr Yurevich, Dmitry Verkhovtsov, Dmitry Lentsevich, Ihar Shytaw, Syarhey Sasnowski, Maksim Bardachow;
Midfielders: Aliaksandr Kulchiy, Aliaksandr Hleb, Timofei Kalachev, Vyacheslav Hleb, Mykola Kashevsky, Ihar Stasevich, Syarhey Kryvets;
Strikers: Vitali Kutuzov, Sergei Kornilenko, Vitali Rodionov, Gennadi Bliznyuk, Leonid Kovel.
Possible formation (4-4-2): Zhevnov; Shytaw, Yurevich, Omelyanchuk, Bardachow; Kulchy, Kalachev, A. Hleb, Sasnowski; Kutuzov, Kornilenko.
Goalkeepers: Oleksandr Shovkovskiy, Andriy Pyatov, Stanislav Bohush;
Defenders: Andriy Rusol, Dmytro Chygrynskiy, Vyacheslav Shevchuk, Oleksandr Kucher, Vitaliy Mandzyuk, Hryhoriy Yarmash, Vasyl Kobin;
Midfielders: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Oleh Husyev, Serhiy Nazarenko, Ruslan Rotan, Oleksiy Hai, Yevhen Levchenko, Andriy Yarmolenko;
Strikers: Andriy Shevchenko, Artem Milevskiy, Andriy Voronin, Yevhen Seleznyov, Volodymyr Homenyuk.
Possible formation (4-3-3): Pyatov; Mandzyuk, Kucher, Chygrynskiy, Kobin; Tymoshchuk, Husyev, Yarmolenko; Milevskiy, Shevchenko, Voronin.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Aliaksandr Hleb (Belarus)
While he isn’t certain to play in this match because of a problem to his hip, the 28-year-old playmaker is probably Belarus’ best player. Last summer he was supposed to move to Inter in the mega-swap deal between the Nerazzurri and Barcelona involving Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Hleb felt he would not be first choice with the Italian champions, and opted to be loaned out to his former club Stuttgart.
Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine)
It’s been a tough few years for Shevchenko since leaving Milan in 2006. At Chelsea he never became an integral part of the team, but things only got worse when he was loaned back to Milan last summer. The 32-year-old striker failed completely to find back to magic of his extremely successful spell with the Rossoneri, and returned to Stamford Bridge this summer with his tail between his legs. Now the Ukraine captain will play out the final stage of his career at his former club Dynamo Kyiv, with whom he signed a two-year deal just before the transfer deadline.
Stronger motivation could give Ukraine a narrow victory.