Ukraine's young footballers could be forgiven for feeling glad it is the senior UEFA European Championship in 2012, rather than the Under-21 event in 2011 that is taking place on home soil.
After all, they will travel to Denmark confident of their ability to prevail on foreign ground after winning three of their four Group 8 away fixtures – compared with just one at home. Those away successes came against Slovenia (2-0), Belgium (2-0) and Malta (3-0), and after topping their section ahead of Belgium, they then clinched qualification thanks to another win on the road, 3-1 in the Netherlands. Although they then lost the home leg 2-0, it was enough to advance on away goals.
Runners-up at the 2006 UEFA European U21 Championship in Portugal, Ukraine are playing in their first finals since then and many experts consider this team better than their predecessors four years ago. Some speculate that they are better even than the class of 1994/96 who, inspired by Andriy Shevchenko and Serhiy Rebrov, finished just a point behind eventual champions Italy in qualifying.
Certainly there are exciting young talents in Pavlo Yakovenko's squad, with the likes of Serhiy Kryvtsov and Denys Garmash having helped Ukraine win the 2009 UEFA European U19 Championship title. In addition, FC Dynamo Kyiv midfielder Roman Zozulya and forwards Andriy Yarmolenko and Artem Kravets have all played senior international and UEFA Champions League football, as has defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy of FC Shakhtar Donetsk.
The FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk forward Yevhen Konoplyanka, scorer of their third goal in the play-off win in Rotterdam, is already considered one of the leaders of the senior Ukraine team. Meanwhile, U21 captain Taras Stepanenko should make the step up to that level soon.
"I would recommend our national coach [Yuriy Kalitvintsev] try all my players," Yakovenko told UEFA.com. "
I will be happy if they succeed at the U21 finals in Denmark and then defend our country's honour at UEFA EURO 2012."
Whatever the potential of his players, Yakovenko is regarded by many as the principal architect of Ukraine's success. One distinctive feature of their play is the threat they pose from dead-ball situations, with almost two-thirds of their qualifying goals coming from set pieces.
They showed their resolute nature at both ends of their qualifying campaign, coming back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with France in their first away test, and then when holding out for the final half-hour of the play-off with the Netherlands, when just one more opposition goal would have spelt elimination.
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