Ukraine could not be any closer to their first major female finals as they welcome Slovenia to Chernigov's Yuri Gagarin Stadium for the second leg of their UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ play-off holding a 3-0 advantage.
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Two first-half goals from Darina Apanaschenko and an Alla Lishafai strike in Davrograd on Sunday gave command of the tie to Ukraine, who only missed out on automatic qualification with a narrow 1-0 loss in Denmark earlier this month. Coach Anatoliy Kutsev is delighted that his team have the chance to seal qualification at the Yuri Gagarin Stadium, which is likely to be packed as admission is free.
"It's symbolic that we're playing our last match in Chernigov, the city where most of our girls took their first footballing steps," said Kutsev. "The Football Federation of Ukraine and the city authorities are doing everything to help us end our qualifying campaign on a high. Our fans won't be satisfied if we don't give them a real football feast. We understand that and are ready to play the game with full commitment. All our players are willing to give their all. We have to finish the things we started and only then look to the future. We had the upper hand in Dravograd, so we just need to complete the final job."
Slovenia performed marvels just to reach the play-offs, having not competed in top-level women's qualifying since 1995 and been seeded fifth of five teams in their group, in which they finished third. Coach Tanja Lekić is realistic about their chance. "We are aware of the big difference in quality," she said. "The first match made it clear, so we won't be travelling to Ukraine with big expectations."
Lekić is still without injured defender Manja Benak but the rest of the team are keen to improve of their weekend performance and, even if they do not make a stunning comeback to reach the finals, at least bow out of by far their best women's campaign with a respectable showing. "We want to leave a better impression in the away match than we did in Slovenia," Lekić said. "A draw would mean a lot to our players. It would also be important for the reputation of women's football in Slovenia."