Mark Temnycky –
The Ukrainian national team will travel to the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb this month to face Croatia on qualification match day five. Croatia vs Ukraine will mark the halfway point of the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification round.
In its previous four matches, zbirna has collected eight from a possible twelve points and sits in second place in Group I. Ukrainian manager, Andriy Shevchenko, must surely be pleased with his team’s performance, and he will expect his team to continue this trend on match day five. Moreover, Shevchenko has also enjoyed his managerial spell because zbirna are currently undefeated under his tenure, securing three wins and two draws in both competitive and friendly matches.
Following zbirna’s win against Finland last November, Shevchenko has made some changes in this round’s squad list. The first omission is Eduard Sobol, who is suspended for this match after he picked up a second yellow card in the match against Finland. Second, Oleksiy Shevchenko has been replaced by Mykyta Shevchenko as Ukraine’s third-choice goalkeeper. And third, Zorya Luhansk’s Oleksandr Karavayev has also been dropped.
Some surprising decisions have also been made: Yevhen Seleznyov, who fell out of favor during the start of Shevchenko’s tenure, has been recalled to the squad. Yevhen Konoplyanka and Roman Zezulya, who have rarely featured in their respective squads since the New Year, have also been called into the squad. While Ukraine’s talented options are limited, and though the squad has relied on the likes of Konoplyanka and Zozulya in the past, one must wonder how they will perform given that they have not featured regularly in competitive football this year.
Qualification round five will see zbirna travel to Croatia, who sit in first place in Group I. Vatreni started their FIFA World Cup qualification campaign with a draw at home against Turkey. Since then, Croatia has collected maximum points against Kosovo, Finland, and Iceland. Given their dominant performance, it appears that they are the team to beat in Group I.
The likes of Real Madrid’s Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić, Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitić, and Juventus’ Mario Mandžukić will spell trouble for the Ukrainians. Moreover, AS Monaco’s Danijel Subašić has kept a clean sheet in three of Croatia’s four qualification matches. Ivan Perišić, who received a red card in the match against Iceland, is suspended for this match.
Croatia vs Ukraine – Prediction
Given Croatia’s talent and dominant performance in the competition, Ukraine should expect a difficult and cagey match. Moreover, on paper, Croatia is the stronger team as the majority of the Croatian national team compete in the Italian and Spanish leagues while Ukraine’s players prominently come from the Ukrainian Premier Leha. Nonetheless, if zbirna has any hope of collecting all three points, Shevchenko will have to field his strongest and most experienced squad.
Zbirna should expect to see Artem Kravets and Andriy Yarmolenko in the starting XI, who have each scored three goals in four matches, while captain Ruslan Rotan has also netted a goal during the campaign. It is expected that the Ukrainians will put up a good fight against the Croatians and will score in Zagreb.
Kosovo host Iceland, while Turkey hosts Finland, meaning that a Ukrainian loss could see zbirna drop to fourth in Group I. Therefore, the Ukrainians must do everything they can in order to ensure that they leave Croatia with at least a point.
Nonetheless, I think that Ukraine will rue its missed chances of collecting maximum points against Iceland and Turkey during the earlier stages of this campaign. I predict that the strength of the Croatian national team will overpower the Ukrainians and that vatreni will hand Shevchenko his first loss in his managerial career.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Croatia vs Ukraine 2-1
Squad List for Croatia vs Ukraine
Zbirna’s squad list for the match against Croatia is as followed:
Goalkeepers: Andriy Pyatov, Mykyta Shevchenko (both Shakhtar Donetsk); Denys Boyko (Málaga)
Defenders: Artem Fedetskiy (SV Darmstadt 98); Oleksandr Kucher, Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Ivan Ordets, Serhiy Kryvtsov, Bohdan Butko (all Shakhtar); Mykola Morozyuk (Dynamo Kyiv); Mykola Matviyennko (Karpaty Lviv)
Midfielders: Taras Stepanenko, Maksym Malyshev, Viktor Kovalenko (both Shakhtar); Andriy Yarmolenko, Serhiy Sydorchuk, Viktor Tsyhankov (all Dynamo); Ruslan Rotan (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk); Ivan Petryak (Zorya Luhansk); Yevhen Konoplyanka (Schalke 04); Oleksandr Zinchenko (PSV Eindhoven); Yevhen Shakhov (PAOK); Ruslan Malinovskyi (Genk)
Forwards: Artem Kravets (Granada CF); Roman Zozulya (Real Betis); Yevhen Seleznyov (Karabükspor); Artem Besyedin (Dynamo)
Mark Temnycky is a Ukrainian-American pursuing a joint masters degree in Public Administration and International Relations at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. Follow Mark on Twitter @MTem33