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With a 2-0 first leg lead, Ukraine are finally and firmly on course for play-off success – and some revenge – following their first leg 2-0 win over Slovenia in Lviv.
Five times Ukraine have reached the play-off stage and five times they have been beaten – including a two-leg defeat by Slovenia to qualify for Euro 2000.
France 2016 is now well within their grasp and Ukraine are clear favourites to end their play-off hoodoo and secure a place to compete against Europe’s best next summer.
Ukraine – dominant in Lviv
Goals either side of the break from Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Seleznyov provides a cushion for Ukraine and gives coach Mykhaylo Fomenko the chance to make play-off history. The nation will be confident after a dominant display in the first leg.
Ukraine enjoyed 61% possession and restricted Slovenia to just three attempts at goal – none of which hit the target or truly tested Andriy Pyatov in goal.
Slovenia’s brightest point from an otherwise frustrating and ultimately disappointing performance came when they were already trailing 1-0. Valter Birsa found Milivoje Novakovic inside the box but the 26-year-old striker, who plays in Japan for Nagoya Grampus, failed to control the ball and saw it spin harmlessly into the grateful hands of Pyatov.
Dynamo Kiev winger Yarmolenko, who top scored for Ukraine through qualifying, struck after 22 minutes with a neat piece of trickery to shoot past Jasmin Handanović. Nine minutes into the second half Ukraine doubled their lead when Seleznyov slid into the six yard box to convert Artem Fedetskiy’s dangerous cross.
Further chances for more goals followed and Handanović had to be alert in the Slovenian goal to prevent his side falling further behind.
Slovenia were clearly relived at the final whistle to be just two goals down and thereby still in with a fighting chance to reverse the tables in the return leg.
The new dynamic duo
Online football tipsters will be impressed with the understanding between Yarmolenko and Sevilla midfielder Yehven Konoplyanka that has Ukraine fans already likening them to the deadly, legendary pairing of Shevchenko and Rebrov.
Football bettors will know that Slovenia simply have to press for goals if they are to have any chance while the 2-0 lead gives Ukraine the perfect foundation for counterattacking football which will make the most of Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka’s blistering pace.
Any chance for Slovenia?
With the young Sergiy Rybalka’s fine performance against Slovenia in the first leg combined with the national side’s impressive displays at U19 and U21 levels, the future for Ukrainian football looks bright.
Slovenia, on the other hand, disappointed in Lviv, particularly Josip Ilicic from whom so much is expected. He and the rest of his team mates will have to improve dramatically if Slovenia are to have any chance of replicating their Euro 2000 play-off success against Ukraine and overturn the 2-0 deficit.
Coach Srecko Katanec will stress the importance of keeping a clean sheet given away goals will be decisive if the teams are level.
By: Joe Cahal