Ukraine's Euro 2020 challenge built on twin pillars of Dynamo and Shakhtar

·3 min read
Earlier in his career Andriy Yarmolenko brawled with his Ukrainian international teammates when they played for their clubs - but now there is harmony in the national team

When Ukraine face North Macedonia at Euro 2020 on Thursday, foreign-based Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ruslan Malinovskyi will be the star names but Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk will form the core of the team.

Manchester City defender Zinchenko and Malinovskyi, a midfielder who plays for Italian side Atalanta, are supported by ten players from Dynamo, the reigning Ukrainian champions.

Head coach Andriy Shevchenko also selected seven players from the domestic league runners-up Shakhtar.

Goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan, one of five Dynamo players in the starting line-up against the Netherlands on Sunday, made several impressive saves in the first half but could not stop the Dutch taking a 3-2 victory in a thrilling match thanks to Denzel Dumfries' winner in the 85th minute.

Ukraine must now take points in the remaining Group C matches against North Macedonia and Austria if they are to make it beyond the group stage of a European Championship for the first time ever.

Ukraine's preparations for the tournament were overshadowed by a row about their shirt -- they angered Russia after unveiling kits featuring patriotic slogans and showing the outline of Ukraine including Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Another problem was the injury of Dynamo Kiev right winger and rising star Viktor Tsygankov, who has made 26 international appearances and scored six goals for Ukraine.

His position on the pitch in the Netherlands encounter was taken by former Dynamo player Andriy Yarmolenko. The midfielder now with West Ham curled in a brilliant goal in the 75th minute to bring Ukraine back into the game in Amsterdam.

- Rivals and teammates -

Players like Dynamo forward Artem Besedin and Shakhtar centre-back Sergiy Kryvtsov are fierce rivals when playing for their clubs but they put that rivalry aside when playing for their country.

In April, Mircea Lucescu, the Romanian former coach of Shakhtar, guided Dynamo to the Ukrainian league title in his first season as coach of the club from the capital.

It was Dynamo's first title for five years and 16th overall.

However, Dynamo's decision last summer to hire the 75-year-old Romanian sparked uproar from fans because of his lengthy tenure in Donetsk where he won a host of domestic honours and the 2009 UEFA Cup, now known as the Europa League.

Lucescu was unsettled by the reaction and even announced his intention to walk away just two days after signing his contract, but stayed in the end.

In another incident illustrating the confrontation between domestic opponents who then put that animosity aside for the sake of the national side, in 2016 Yarmolenko, then with Dynamo, was involved in a mass brawl against Shakhtar which soured relations with Ukraine teammate Taras Stepanenko.

As fists flew, Yarmolenko kicked Stepanenko after the Shakhtar midfielder celebrated a goal during his team's 3-0 win against Dynamo.

Yarmolenko was suspended for three matches and fined 50,000-hryvnia ($2,000) over the incident.

Stepanenko told Ukrainian television afterwards that his friendship with Yarmolenko was "over" -- but he said he would put the incident aside for the sake of the national team.

Both players are in the squad again and with no conflicts on the horizon now, Shevchenko said before the tournament that be believed club rivalries would be safely left behind.

"Players should understand that being in such a tournament is a huge experience," he said.

"Small details that many do not pay attention to can play a very large role."

dg/gj/cdw

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting