Ukraine scouting report: Why Andriy Shevchenko’s Hampden heroes will be no pushovers for England

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Ukraine sealed a dramatic last-gasp win over Sweden in extra time at Hampden Park (Getty Images)
Ukraine sealed a dramatic last-gasp win over Sweden in extra time at Hampden Park (Getty Images)

Long before Tuesday night’s victory over Sweden, Andriy Shevchenko had cemented his status as a legend in Ukraine.

During his glittering playing career, which included winning the Ballon d’Or in 2004, he became Ukraine’s record goalscorer and captained them to their first-ever World Cup quarter-final.

Now, as a manager, he has guided the country to their first quarter-final at a European Championship, thanks to their late win over Sweden.

“My message to the players was to believe,” said Shevchenko. “We are here, and this was our chance to change the future — and we did it.”

At the full-time whistle, the Ukraine fans here at Hampden Park serenaded Shevchenko with shouts of “Sheva” and, if it were possible, they have fallen more in love with him.

Next up is a showdown with England in the quarter-finals on Saturday and, while Ukraine go into the game in Rome as underdogs, they cannot be written off given the job Shevchenko has done.

The former Chelsea striker was placed in charge in July 2016, just weeks after Ukraine had been eliminated in the group stages of Euro 2016.

The mood of the squad and country was low, but in the subsequent years Shevchenko has transformed the atmosphere. Fans feel connected to this squad, largely because before the pandemic Shevchenko would invite thousands of them to attend training sessions.

The mood in the squad has improved, too, with Shevchenko introducing initiation songs for newly-capped players and a ban on mobile phones at dinner.

His approach has all been about bringing players together, creating a feeling of unity — and judging by last night it is working.

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

“I had perhaps the worst few days of my footballing life after the Champions League Final,” said Manchester City left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko. “But I recovered so quickly because of the atmosphere in our national team.”

Shevchenko, however, is not a glorified cheerleader. Tactically, he has worked to transform Ukraine into a more possession-based side, but they are flexible. Predominantly they play in a 4-3-3 but, as was the case on Tuesday night, Shevchenko is not afraid to revert to a 3-5-2 counter-attacking approach.

That system earned them a 1-1 draw against World Cup winners France in March and on Tuesday night it booked them a place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.

Shevchenko was bold in switching to a 3-5-2 last night, dropping star playmaker Ruslan Malinovskyi in the process, but his gamble paid off.

Ukraine rode their luck at times, as Sweden hit the woodwork twice, but England must still take them seriously.

Special attention should be paid to Andriy Yarmolenko, who looks a completely different player compared to when he is in a West Ham shirt.

He is Ukraine’s captain, their talisman, and his ability to conjure something out of nothing was evident by his brilliant pass for the opening goal last night. Alongside him, striker Roman Yaremchuk, at 6ft 3in, should keep England’s defence busy, and he is more than just a big target man.

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

When picked, Malinovskyi provides guile and creativity in midfield, which is complemented nicely by the imposing Taras Stepanenko.

Zinchenko, as is the case with many of City’s players, can fill in anywhere and invariably ends up being one of the team’s best players.

On Tuesday night, he was deployed as a left wing-back — winning the man-of-the-match award in the process — and Ukraine are likely to use him in a 3-5-2 formation against England, too.

The system allows them to have a solid base of three centre-backs, the most talented of which is undoubtedly Mykola Matviyenko, and they can soak up pressure before hitting teams on the break. That should be the plan against England and, if it works, Shevchenko’s legendary status will be unrivalled.

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