Ukraine's challenge going into their final Group D match is a simple one. The tournament co-hosts need to win against England to advance to the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-finals, the very same challenge they faced, incidentally, in their last home game of 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying back in October 2009.
Nearly three years on and some 250km further eastwards, what else has changed? The answer is, not much in the Ukraine squad – 11 players (and four of the substitutes) from that 1-0 victory against England on the bank of Dnipro are still in the Ukraine squad and busy preparing amid the slag heaps of Donetsk for tomorrow's big match.
I remember Serhiy Nazarenko scoring in that game, and how Ukraine's success was based on a solid approach with stinging counterattacks. Will Oleh Blokhin's team look to copy the tactics of Oleksiy Mykhailychenko's charges? Not this time, I think.
The principal reason is the relative weakness – judging by the statistics – of the home defence. Ukraine kept six clean sheets in ten matches in that World Cup qualifying group. In 2012 they have leaked ten goals in six games and are up against an England side who have found the net in their last 15 fixtures.
Another reason why the counterattacking ploy may not work is the potential absence of Andriy Shevchenko. The captain's display against Sweden underlined his enduring quality but Sheva's ability to play 90 minutes is open to question and who is going to replace him?
There is a choice of Marko Dević, who came off the bench against France and worked hard to make chances for himself albeit without sufficient support from team-mates. Artem Milevskiy, another substitute that night, failed to shine but is known for his ability to provide the final pass – a much-needed quality. Local boy Yevhen Seleznyov has yet to feature in this tournament but does carry a well-known aerial threat.
Perhaps another alternative for Blokhin is to send his midfielders forward more often given that each of the trio of Andriy Yarmolenko, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Nazarenko does score on a regular basis for his club.
It seems pretty obvious Ukraine's hopes hang on hitting upon a winning solution in attack if they want to avoid a premature exit. My own speculation is immaterial: it is the tactics Blokhin chooses and the names in the starting XI that will matter. We'll know the answer tomorrow.
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