Reaching the semi-finals as section winners in their first UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals seems just cause for joy, but Ukraine are quietly confident they will have more to celebrate in the week ahead. "We're not rejoicing yet," midfielder Olexandr Aliyev said, capturing the mood in the camp. "We want the trophy. All the celebrations will be in Kiev when we return."
The odds looked stacked against debutants Ukraine last March when defeat by Denmark left them with just three wins from their first seven qualifiers. But Olexiy Mykhaylychenko's team came storming back, taking 13 points from their last five games, and that momentum does not appear to be abating in Portugal. An opening-day victory against a much-fancied Netherlands side got them off to the best possible start before holders Italy brought them back to earth with a late winner.
It left everything resting on the concluding Group B match against a Denmark team who had overcome them twice in qualifying, but Ukraine cast those memories aside and prevailed 2-1 thanks to Artem Milevskiy's late strike. Exceeding expectation has been a hallmark of Mykhaylychenko's squad since their arrival in Portugal, and Aliyev believes they could cause another upset in Thursday's semi-final against Serbia and Montenegro. "Now we are at least the third-best team in Europe," he said, "but I tell you: we are strong enough to reach the final."
Those sentiments are echoed by defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy, who admits there is an air of confidence in the camp: "No one is really shouting about winning but everybody knows what we're here for. We didn't come to Portugal for a holiday." Having emerged from the group as one of only two countries to have won more than once, the other contenders will be acutely aware of that, but Serbia and Montenegro are not to be taken lightly either.
'Nothing is impossible'
"They have lost twice but no one should be deceived by that," Chygrynskiy continued. "They are an organised unit and qualified from a very tough group. Then again, if you lose then you must have weaknesses so we'll try to take advantage of that." Ukraine have certainly gone for the jugular in clinically disposing of the Netherlands and Denmark and, with Italy dropping out of the equation, the trophy could be destined for a new home. According to Chygrynskiy, that could well be Kiev: "As we've proven so far, nothing is impossible."
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