Photo: UEFA

Ukraine has never done so well at the European Championship as now. Saturday, they meet England for a place in the semifinals. 

Saturday will be a historical day for Ukraine when its national football team enters the field at Stadio Olimpico in Rome to face mighty England for a place in the semifinals. Ukraine has never done so well before at the European Championships – or any major international tournament since the 2006 World Cup – and the game will be followed closely.

England is many bookmakers’ favorites to take the title, but Ukraine has shown itself as an underdog with the potential to surprise. In the initial stage Group C, Ukraine progressed to the round of 16 as number three after a victory against North Makedonia and narrow defeats against Austria and the Netherlands. Ukraine attracted much attention after only narrowly losing 3-2 to the Netherlands with several star players. 

In the round of 16, Ukraine defeated Sweden with a late goal in extra time by a forceful header by Artem Dovbyk, who has a history in Danish football for FC Midtjylland. Ukraine has star players such as Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City and captain Andriy Yarmolenko from West Ham. The hope is that they can do the impossible and send England home with yet another disappointment at the European Championships. 

How it went before

Ukrainenu has decided to look back at how Ukraine has done it historically in the European Championships as a prelude to the match. And frankly, there is not much encouragement to find there. Ukraine has never progressed from the group stage. There is also not much hope to see when it comes to the previous matches against England. Since 2000, the two teams have met seven times with one Ukrainian victory, two draws, and four wins for England. One of the games was a 0-1 defeat in the 2012 European Championships.

2012 was also the first time that Ukraine qualified for the European Championships as an independent country. After four tournaments without qualification, Ukraine finally managed to qualify and faced Sweden, England, and France in the group stage, where they lost to England and France, but managed to get three points against Sweden after two goals by their star player Andriy Shevchenko. He is today the coach for the Ukrainian national team.

The tournament was, despite not making it to the final rounds, a success for Ukraine. The country managed to play good football, and it gave hope for a better future ahead. Ukraine has good football clubs, a love for the game, and around 40 million inhabitants, so there were reasons to be optimistic. Ukraine, however, did not qualify for the World Cup in 2014 and had to wait another four years to enter another big international tournament. 

The disaster in 2016

That came when Ukraine managed to qualify for the European Championships in 2016. To their satisfaction, they ended up in a much more manageable group with Germany, Poland, and Northern Ireland. It was expected that Ukraine could beat Northern Ireland and maybe also Poland, but instead, Ukraine came last with three defeats and scoring zero goals. 

Andriy Shevchenko took over as coach after the disappointment and started to rebuild the team for the future. His focus was on letting the other team keep more possession and then punish them with counterattacks. The strategy managed to send them to this year’s championships with the best result, and according to Shevchenko, anything is possible. 

“I saw all their three group matches, they are incredibly difficult to score against, but their strength shouldn’t scare us. It should motivate us because everything is possible in football, as in life, and we will play our hearts out to give our fans even more to cheer about,” said Shevchenko recently to the British newspaper The Telegraph