Andriy Yarmolenko has been catching the eye in recent months. His winning goal against Poland guaranteed Ukraine a place in the play-offs for the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals, while on matchday three he capped a splendid UEFA Europa League performance against FC Thun with the opening goal in FC Dynamo Kyiv's 3-0 victory.
The Swiss club will know well from that experience why Yarmolenko, who scored in six successive games in October, is regarded by many as having been carved from the same stellar block as Andriy Shevchenko. Hitting the same heights as 'Sheva', whose star shone so brightly for both Dynamo and Ukraine, appears an impossible challenge but Dynamo coach Oleh Blokhin believes the 24-year-old has the potential to go far. "Yarmolenko is a great player, talented and quick," he said. "Even though he doesn't play in my position up front, he still manages to score plenty of goals. If he works hard, he could reach the highest level like I did."
Yarmolenko was first tipped for bigger things when FC Junost Chernihiv's youth coach spotted him having a kickabout on a local hard court. At the age of 13, he was taken to Kyiv but the timing was not right and within a year the homesick teenager returned to his parents. The scouts, however, kept a close watch on Yarmolenko's progress at FC Desna Chernihiv and Dynamo came calling again when he was 16, when then-coach Anatoliy Demyanenko said: "I was told that our scouts found a lad, 100km from Kyiv, who they were calling a 'second Shevchenko'."
This time, things ran more smoothly, though Yarmolenko had to wait until Dynamo's last home game of the 2007/08 season to finally make his debut. Yuri Semin sent him on with eight minutes of the league fixture against FC Vorskla Poltava remaining and with the scores level at 1-1, and the 18-year-old duly struck the winning goal. He has now made over 200 first-team appearances for Dynamo, and scored 64 goals in all competitions. Yarmolenko is level, meanwhile, with team-mate Oleh Gusev on 13 goals for Ukraine, just two adrift of Serhiy Rebrov – now on Dynamo's coaching staff – but a good 35 short of Shevchenko's club-record tally of 48.
The World Cup play-off against France presents an opportunity to add to his international total. "I have a feeling that it will be something colossal in the play-offs," said Yarmolenko, who has inherited Shevchenko's old No7 shirt with the national team. "I get lots of calls from friends and acquaintances asking if I am ready for it. The excitement is huge. It is a dream for a footballer to play in matches like this. We have to beat France." It could be the making of Yarmolenko. As Blokhin concluded: "On his day, Yarmolenko is unstoppable."
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