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Iceland hold initiative over Ukraine

Iceland will defend a 3-2 play-off lead at home to Ukraine on Thursday and know the pressure is on their visitors to turn the tie and make up for a home leg that they admit went wrong

The Laugardalsvöllur is prepared for a cold night on Thursday
The Laugardalsvöllur is prepared for a cold night on Thursday ©KSÍ

Iceland will defend a 3-2 UEFA Women's EURO 2013 play-off lead at home to Ukraine on Thursday and they know the visitors will try to take the initiative to turn the tie.

Ukraine fought back to equalise from two down on Saturday before Margrét Lára Vidarsdóttir restored the visitors' advantage with her tenth goal in qualifying, and a big crowd is expected at Iceland's national Laugardalsvöllur stadium in Reykjavik just as four years ago when they defeated the Republic of Iceland 3-0 to clinch a finals debut. In the same play-offs, Ukraine also qualified, and Iceland coach Siggi Eyjólfsson is expecting a big push from the away team.

"On Saturday, we wanted to put pressure on them, to see how they would manage that," he told UEFA.com. "But now for the second match we might play differently. Ukraine have to take their chances in the second match, because now they need to win. We will see how it goes."

Midfielder Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir added: "It's going be really hard for them to score three goals on our home turf. I expect that Ukraine will come to Iceland and try to score goals, and I think we have to have a good defence, and show the same character that we did in the first leg. And try to play a little bit better, try to play the ball on the ground, and keep the ball a little bit more."

Although Iceland have a fine home record, Ukraine proved themselves on the road in their qualifying group, winning games in Slovakia, Belarus and Finland to save their campaign. However, coach Anatoliy Kutsev knows they can ill afford to repeat their first-leg lapses. "After just six minutes they scored a goal – it wasn't so easy to go on playing in that situation," he said. "Anyway, the girls gave everything they've got. It wasn't our day, that's for sure – we made a lot of mistakes in defence."

Midfielder Valentyna Kotyk agrees. "We were expecting them to press us from the very beginning," she said. "But perhaps we couldn't help but get nervous, and so we went behind. We just lost confidence for the whole first half. In the second half we made some corrections, and we came on to the field with a different attitude."