A tragic loss to Croatia in the decisive game of the World Cup qualifying round broke all the hopes for the Ukrainian national team to make it to the final tournament. Unfortunately, Croatians managed to overcome the change of the head coach right before the match and upset the Ukrainian side led by former star footballer Andriy Shevchenko. Despite the loss in the most important game over a four-year period, the team definitely showed signs of potential greatness at times, let us go through the key disappointments, as well as accomplishments of the young Ukrainian squad.
Ukraine lost to the Croatians twice over the qualifier, but it should be mentioned they are led by stars employed at Real Madrid and Barcelona. But the World Cup 2018 qualifying round will also be remembered for the confident victory over Turkey (2:0) in Kharkiv, which made Mircea Lucescu the new head coach of the Turkish side.
Ukraine beat Finland and Kosovo rather comfortably, largely due to a significantly higher quality of the players. However, many vital points were lost – after leading 2:0 at halftime in Turkey, Ukrainians ended up drawing 2:2, as well as tying the home game against Iceland (1:1), after conceding an early goal. The away game in Reykjavik was even tougher – two goals scored by the northerners were left unanswered.
When it comes to individual performance, one needs to admit that Andriy Shevchenko actually played the best players available at the time. However, many goals were scored from the area supposedly under the control of the center defenders, Yaroslav Rakitsky and Yevhen Khacheridi. It could be said that Viktor Kovalenko, Serhiy Sydorchuk and Denys Harmash did not entirely live up to the expectations. The team's leaders, Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, could have been more effective in the most decisive moments, while the absence of a center forward has been a problem for the Ukrainian national team for quite a few years now.
On the bright side, however, one needs to look at the excellent performance by the 21-year-old left winger Mykola Matvienko, while the opposite wing was well covered by the 26-year-old Bohdan Butko. The young Dynamo Kyiv striker Artem Besedin scored a vital goal in the game against Finland, Olexandr Karavaev and Mykola Morozyuk contributed well when they were called to replace the starter central midfielders.
Of course, some may view the performance by the Ukrainian national team in the 2018 World Cup qualifier as unimpressive, but to be fair, Andriy Shevchenko took on a very ambitious task to build a new team of young players. It is very important that there is a sense of genuine comradery within the young squad, where every player was able to contribute and to sacrifice for his teammate. Just this point alone should make Ukrainian fans proud of their national football team and hopeful for its future achievements.