Olexiy Mykhaylychenko tells uefa.com of the importance of Ukraine "performing well" in Portugal as they play their first finals since independence.
Having been a highly-regarded luminary as a player, Olexiy Mykhaylychenko is hoping his Under-21 side can help launch a new generation of Ukrainian stars.
An attacking midfielder, Mykhaylychenko won the 1986 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, three Soviet titles and three USSR Cups with FC Dynamo Kyiv before heading abroad where further glory followed with UC Sampdoria in Italy and Scottish side Rangers FC. Now he is hoping that his charges can enjoy similar achievements, provided they continue to develop through their early 20s. "At this age players are very unpredictable," he told uefa.com. "Some improve drastically, while others suddenly stop performing. But I have no doubt that we have players who will move into the senior side."
These are certainly exciting times in Ukrainian football as the national team prepare for their FIFA World Cup finals debut, and Mykhaylychenko sees the double achievement as a clear sign of the nation's development in the past few years. "We are starting to get back to the level that we were at before the collapse of the Soviet Union," he said. "It is very important for our country to perform well because we are at the very beginning of independent Ukrainian football history. This year our qualification for the U21 finals and the success of the senior national squad has shown that we are making progress."
Mykhaylychenko seems to be making good progress too. Having won two titles and two Ukrainian Cups in his first two seasons in his first senior coaching job at Dynamo, he steered his side through a tough qualifying campaign to reach their first U21 finals just two years after taking charge. However, he is well aware that the tournament in Portugal will not be easy: "Every match will be very tough. Maybe, given their experience of such tournaments, the hosts Portugal and Italy will be dangerous. Still, I would like to stress that I am not writing anybody off because all the teams are very closely matched."
That is as it should be. With the qualifying process having weeded out all but the best young sides in Europe, the teams competing over the next fortnight can expect severe examinations from all of their opponents. For Mykhaylychenko that is the great benefit of the tournament. "It is their last step before moving into the big world of football and that will shape their fate in the future." he said.