Population: 47,400,000
Area: 603,700 km²
Capital: Kiev
Language: Ukrainian, Russian

Ukraine topped the very tricky UEFA group 2 two points ahead of Turkey.
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Feb 28 Azerbaijan v Ukraine 0-0
May 28 Ukraine v Costa Rica 4-0
Jun 02 Italy v Ukraine 0-0
Jun 05 Ukraine v Libya 3-0
Jun 08 Ukraine v Luxembourg

Participated: None
Best placing: None
Topscorers: None

Jun 14 - UKR v SPA  in Leipzig
Jun 19 - UKR v KSA  in Hamburg
Jun 23 - UKR v TUN  in Berlin

- Ukraine in Group H -
Jan Alsos: 2nd place
Pierre Boisrond: 2nd place
Ruud Doevendans: 2nd place
Mike Gibbons: 1st place
Peter Goldstein: 1st place
Paul Marcuccitti: 3rd place
Felipe Santos: 2nd place


by Jan Alsos

    Ukraine will be taking the strong football traditions of the old Soviet Union into the 21st century by their appearance in Germany this summer. It was primarily Ukraine and not Russia who made up the Soviet national teams in the 1980s before the big union dissolved. Dynamo Kiev was the dominant club at the time and a large group of the Soviet players originated from there. The key man behind that dominant period was Valeri Lobanovsky who sadly passed away a few years ago. He would have been proud to witness his former starplayer Oleg Blokhin take Ukraine to the World Cup for the first time.

    Unlike the rest of Eastern-Europe, Ukraine have managed to stay somewhat competitive with the rich western clubs in the Champions League - particularly with Dynamo Kiev, but also to a lesser degree with Shakhtar Donetsk. Now Ukraine send their national team, built heavily on home-based players, to Germany with ambitions of achieving ground-breaking results also in the World Cup.

    Having stumbled at the final play-off hurdle both in 1998 (against Croatia) and 2002 (against Germany), Ukraine finally managed to qualify for the World Cup - and they did so in style in arguably the most difficult group in Europe eliminating teams like European champions Greece, World Cup 2002 bronzemedalists Turkey and Denmark.

    In Germany, Ukraine are grouped with Spain, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. Not the strongest trio on paper, but the World Cup is always full of surprises and Ukraine can't afford to underestimate anyone or take anything for granted - being debutants themselves. They face top seeded Spain already in the first game which puts them under pressure to deliver from the start.

    Since Soviet dissolved no teams from the old Union have impressed at the World Cup. Russia flopped in 1994 and 2002, no other teams have qualified before Ukraine now. Blokhin's men are determined to take their chance in this survivable group and break that spell.

    Oleg Blokhin, European Footballer of the Year 1975 and World Cup participant 1982 and 1986, first took charge of this team in September 2003 when Ukraine's dream of reaching Euro 2004 was over. This campaign to Germany 2006 has therefore been his first at the helm, but it has not been without problems. Blokhin is also a politician and member of parliament in his native country. He came under pressure in March 2005 which caused him to resign from his coaching job because Ukrainian constitution says nobody can have another job besides the seat at the parliament, but the Appeal Court gave Blokhin green light to continue coaching since he did not receive financial gain from it.

    The team built up by Blokhin is starting to look strong. He believes in fast paced football, with counter-attacks as a deadly weapon, often with three forwards. Alexandr Shovkovsky (Dynamo Kiev) will be first choice in goal. He is a solid performer with vast experience from numerous Champions League seasons over the last decade. He broke his collarbone in January, but is expected to be 100% fit for the World Cup.

    The defence is built around the youngster Andriy Rusol (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk). Blokhin surprised everyone early in his reign by selecting Rusol, but he has been splendid during the whole qualifying campaign. A born leader on the pitch and a man every team needs at the back in tight tournament matches. Partnering him in central defence might be Vladislav Vashchuk (Dynamo Kiev). Andriy Nesmachny (Dynamo Kiev) looks to be the choice wide if Blokhin decides to use a four man backline. Otherwise it might be a center trio with him involved also and/or Dynamo Kiev-colleague Sergei Federov. Rusol's teammate from Dnipro, Vladimir Yezersky, could also be a choice. Blokhin has alternated between a number of players, but the defence has been tight no matter which players used. Ukraine conceded only 7 goals in 12 qualifying matches.

    In midfield, Blokhin seems to go for Dynamo Kiev-duo Ruslan Rotan and Oleg Husev. The workhorse Anatoly Tymoshchuk (Shakthar Donetsk) is a likely choice also, as is Sergei Nazarenko (Dnipro). The veteran Andrei Gusin (Krylya Samara) is still going strong and is considered a valuable asset to the squad.

    Up front is the magnificent Andriy Shevchenko - one of the world's greatest and most complete players. At 29 years of age, and with another strong season in AC Milan behind him, Sheva is expected to be one of the stars of the World Cup. Ukraine's attacking strength depends very much on his form and his form has been solid throughout the qualifiers - 6 goals in the 9 matches he played. It will probably be his only chance to shine on the sport's biggest stage at the peak of his powers.

    Shevchenko's partners in attack could be his two namesakes, Andriy Voronin (Bayer Leverkusen) and Andriy Vorobei (Shakhtar Donetsk). Voronin is a hardworking player who suits Shevchenko's style very well. He creates a lot of openings for the Italian-based superstar with his tireless running. In a recent goalless friendly with Azerbaijan, Blokhin also brought back Sergiy Rebrov to the team. He and Shevchenko were a deadly duo during Dynamo Kiev's haydays in the late 1990s. The careers of both strikers of course went opposite ways after that, but them being re-united for the national team will bring great joy to fans of Ukraine. If Rebrov can find back to his old self for some short weeks in June, who says Ukraine can't go really far in the tournament?

    On the background of the team's impressive showing in the qualifiers, Blokhin would love to reach the last four in the World Cup, something he never achieved as a player, and his squad will be a dark horse in Germany. Eastern European teams with one outstanding star have done very well from time to time (Boniek/Poland '82, Stoitchkov/Bulgaria '94). Shevchenko and Ukraine could follow that 12 year cycle if things fall in place for them.




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