Dmytro Chygrynskiy has told uefa.com that Ukraine would have struggled to reach Sunday's Under-21 final had they not been underestimated by fellow finalists, the Netherlands, in both teams' opening game at the tournament.
Ukraine were the underdogs going into the Group B opener in Agueda, yet surprised both the Jong Oranje and many observers by winning 2-1 with goals from Artem Milevskiy and Ruslan Fomin. That injection of confidence has since sustained the defender and his team-mates en route to Sunday's showpiece in Porto. "I believe the Dutch underestimated us and it helped us," Chygrynskiy said to uefa.com. "The first step is always the most important. It was our first time playing at this level and we showed that we were no worse than the other teams here, while possibly being even more determined."
'Very pleasant surprise'
The spirit Chygrynskiy refers to subsequently helped the first-time finalists overcome the setback of a last-gasp defeat by Italy to beat Denmark and then, in a semi-final penalty shoot-out, Serbia and Montenegro. "We are second to none in the mental side of the game," he said. "We are ready to fight for every ball and we do not get down when things don't go our way. We stay calm in difficult moments." A big-hearted team is nourished by like-minded fans from the Ukrainian expatriate community. "The support is just crazy," explained the 19-year-old from FC Shakhtar Donetsk. "They have been a very pleasant surprise for us, both in their quality and their quantity. The fans have done their bit, and throughout the Serbia and Montenegro match, it was like we were playing at home. We went over to thank them at the end."
However, Ukraine's success owes as much to calculating minds as to raw emotions. A canny coach in Olexiy Mykhaylychenko must take credit too. "When he came, we started to play more pragmatic football built on solid defending. He arranges our training and games according to his experience and skill, but he does not share his memories with us. He just uses them in his work. And we try to implement all he tells us. We know what he wants and what we should do on the pitch."
The opposition, it seems, do not, thanks in part to Mykhaylychenko's flexible tactics. "It is difficult to define exactly how we play, because we try to play according to how the game is going," Chygrynskiy continued. "I can't think of any particularly exciting performances we have given recently, but the most important thing is always the result. We can achieve this either by spectacular football or by the kind of football we have been playing here. FC Barcelona are, of course, the ideal, but we have to build on the potential of the players we have available."
Chygrynskiy the defensive colossus symbolises both the pragmatic and the pleasing aspects of Mykhaylychenko's side. With his long hair and socks rolled down his calves, this man-mountain resembles a tough centre-half from the old school. Yet his style can be easy on the eye, particularly when carrying the ball out of defence. Results, though, matter most to Chygrynskiy and company. "Our job now is to win the final," he said. "There will be huge tension on both teams and, in such situations, one mistake can be decisive. We have to give our best and leave everything on the pitch, so we have no regrets afterwards. The Netherlands struggled to begin with, but have improved with every game and are approaching this match in very good shape. But we will see."
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