Holovko confident Ukraine can compete

Having led Ukraine to this month's UEFA European Under-19 Championship, Olexandr Holovko is now out to follow in the footsteps of the victorious 2009 squad.

Olexandr Holovko watches his Ukraine side
©Vladimir Sharayevski

Having taken Ukraine to the UEFA European Under-17 Championship two years ago, Olexandr Holovko has led the same crop of players to another finals tournament. With an influential trio returning to the squad, the coach has built a team around UEFA Youth League finalists FC Shakhtar Donetsk.

UEFA.com: This set of players reached the U17s under your guidance two years ago. How does this campaign compare?

Olexandr Holovko: We had more emotions in 2013 because this time I always knew my team were able to get through the qualifying stage. The quality of our performances, level of mutual understanding between players and coaches and the quality of the team, based on this year's UEFA Youth League finalists from Shakhtar Donetsk, gave me much confidence.

UEFA.com: Did Shakhtar's success in the UEFA Youth League give a psychological boost to your side?

Holovko: Matches against the best European teams of this age are a fantastic experience you don't get on the domestic stage. Of course, this experience helped us in the elite round.

UEFA.com: In the elite round decider, you defeated Montenegro 2-0. What do you put the success down to?

Holovko: We were better prepared than our opponents in terms of fitness and psychology. I felt the high level of focus from those on the pitch and on bench. The boys knew their goal and had enough quality and desire to achieve it.

UEFA.com: In the elite round you were without key figures Viktor Kovalenko, Valeriy Luchkevych, Artem Besedin who were at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Will they be back for the finals?

Holovko: I went to the airport to meet the lads when they arrived. They returned home earlier than expected and had a feeling of not doing what they had hoped. They confirmed their desire to play in Greece and their motivation and concentration. Yes, they were tired but ten days of rest is enough for a young player to recover.

UEFA.com: Are France favourites to win Group A?

Holovko: No doubt. The France players have developed as footballers in a better environment and now look stronger in many areas – tactics, technique, fitness. But in this age you can compete with any opponents, even those as strong as France.

UEFA.com: What would you say about the two other teams in Group A – Greece and Austria?

Holovko: The hosts, who we play in the first match, are a persistent team that can defend well under pressure and wait for their chance. They are strong and skilful and play aggressively. It will be a tough game but if we want to go to the next stage we have to get points from the first match. We have to be careful and 150% ready.

There are many similarities with Austria. I worked in the country and know how much effort they put into their football. They have a systematic approach at all levels. That's why it's not a surprise their senior and youth national teams have played so well recently.

UEFA.com: Will your team be set up to attack?

Holovko: We have several tactical patterns and can vary them with regard to different matches and situations. It's very important to choose the right tactics and achieve our goal. We must remember that attack wins you games; defence wins you titles.

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