Ukraine prosper on their own

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Ukraine have emerged as a competitive footballing nation in their own right.

Ukraine celebrate reaching the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals
Ukraine celebrate reaching the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals ©AFP

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has emerged as a competitive football nation in its own right. However, even before the dismantling of the old USSR at the start of the 1990s, Ukrainian football had produced outstanding players, performances and administrators. In this context, and in the wake of a successful UEFA EURO 2012 which Ukraine co-hosted with Poland, the country and its football enthusiasts can view the future with hope and confidence.

The Football Federation of Ukraine (FFU) was set up as a self-sufficient legal entity on 6 March 1991. Until then, Ukraine had been part of the USSR Football Federation with its clubs contesting the Soviet championship; they only withdrew after the nation gained independence in December 1991. The first FFU leaders were president Viktor Bannikov and general secretary Anatoliy Bidenko, both of whom were influential figures in Ukraine's integration into UEFA and FIFA in the summer of 1992.

Between February and June that same year, the FFU ran its first league championship for non-amateur teams and staged the inaugural edition of the Ukrainian Cup. The honour of becoming Ukraine's first domestic champions went to SC Tavriya Simferopol from the Crimea, while FC Chornomorets Odesa claimed the cup in 1992.

Ukraine's footballing talent has increasingly left its mark on the international scene. The country boasts three Ballon d'Or winners in Oleh Blokhin, Igor Belanov and Andriy Shevchenko – European Footballers of the Year in 1975, 1986 and 2004 respectively. FC Dynamo Kyiv twice lifted the European Cup Winners' Cup, in 1975 and 1986, the UEFA Super Cup in 1975 and have reached the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals on several occasions.

FC Shakhtar Donetsk, another force in the domestic game, were winners of the last-ever UEFA Cup in 2009. Other teams to have featured prominently in European competition include FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Chornomorets, FC CSKA Kyiv, Tavriya, FC Vorskla Poltava, FC Karpaty Lviv, FC Metalist Kharkiv, FC Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih, FC Nyva Vinnytsa and FC Metalurh Zaporizhya.

Ukraine's national side made their debut in the finals of a major championship when they got to the last eight at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. The team also came close to qualifying for five other final tournaments only to be denied in a play-off (the last time, by France in 2014 World Cup qualification), before participating in the 2012 UEFA European Championship on home soil.

The FFU can also report progress at grassroots level. The federation has a schools football development agreement with Ukraine's ministry for education and science, which was signed in 2001 with the aim of introducing football classes into secondary schools. The fact Ukraine finished second at the 2006 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, and then won the U19 Championship as hosts in 2009, suggests that this collaboration is paying dividends.

Ukraine has also recorded success in other versions of the game. The national futsal side were runners-up to Spain at the UEFA European Futsal Championship of 2001 and to Italy in 2003, results which reflect the country's enthusiasm for the indoor version of the sport. In addition, the Ukrainian team took silver at the World Student Games in China in 2001, then gold in Spain in 2004.