Olexandr Holovko was assistant coach when Ukraine won their first UEFA European Under-19 Championship title four years ago and now his U17 side want to match that feat in Slovakia.
Holovko's team proved their worth in the elite round in Germany when, needing to beat the hosts – who were looking like tournament favourites – in the deciding game, Ukraine won it with three minutes left despite having played most of the match with ten men. In their previous finals in 2002, 2004 and 2009, Ukraine ended bottom of their group; now the minimum aim for Holovko is a top-three pool finish and a FIFA U-17 World Cup debut as they take on Russia, Italy and Croatia from next Sunday.
UEFA.com: Do you think your team can cause more surprises?
We have spent a lot of time processing the emotions felt after the very difficult win in Germany, playing with ten men for most of the match. It was a miracle but this is already in the past. We are focusing on another task – the minimum is to qualify for the U-17 World Cup. But we want the maximum, as does probably every tournament participant.
UEFA.com: How would you describe your team's form?
Holovko: It is too early to say. Only time will show if we are ready. The fact is, we have done a great amount of work. Despite their young age, we have been together for over a year and a half, so the players know each other and understand each other well on the pitch. And finally we have the chance to balance the team's shape now. Some need extra work, some need to rest. We have ten days for this work. Our first real training camp!
UEFA.com: So it looks like you will be in shape ...
Holovko: Yes. In January we played four matches in a week during a friendly tournament in Belarus, but we did not have any preparation for it. We then spent a week in Turkey where we played two more matches. Around the elite round [in March] all the players were with their clubs and the team was not balanced. That is why, in all three elite round matches in Germany, our performance levels varied.
UEFA.com: Do you plan making any changes to the squad before the final tournament?
Holovko: I hope we will have the strongest squad, without injuries. All my players are tried and tested and I do not see any reason why I should call up anybody else. We met up on Thursday and flew to Austria. There is only one match planned – against one of the youth teams from the local league on 29 April. On 3 May we will travel to Slovakia, two days before playing Russia.
UEFA.com: What do you think of your Group B opponents?
Holovko: The next opponent is always the most important. There is no sense talking about how opponents play, because it is a question of tactics and strategy for each particular match. That's the approach at national team level. We think about Russia – this first match will be very difficult, because achieving a result is very important. I should add that we have played Russia twice in the last six months and we know each other very well.
UEFA.com: Who are the favourites in the group?
Holovko: There are no clear favourites. Probably Croatia should be mentioned separately as they finished above Spain and France in the elite round. Also, Russia beat Portugal and England. Italy are always strong. We beat Germany. So every team deserves to be respected and that means every match will be close.
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