Vadim Furmanov and Manuel Veth –
The World Champion will look to start of on the right foot for on Sunday. Outsiders Ukraine, however, are hopeful that Germany’s rocky qualification run, and poor showings in friendly will carry over into the the European Championships. Ahead of Germany vs Ukraine we have taken a closer look at both countries, possible lineup, star players, and possible outcomes of the match.
Germany vs Ukraine Predictions
For the most part, Ukraine’s starting eleven is clear. Andriy Pyatov will start in goal, despite inconsistent performances in the pre-tournament friendlies. The back four will consist of Artem Fedetskyi, Yevhen Khacheridi, Yaroslav Rakitskiy, and Vyacheslav Shevchuk. Up front, Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka will provide support for lone striker Roman Zozulya.
The middle of the pitch is where some question marks remain. Taras Stepanenko and Ruslan Rotan are virtually guaranteed to start, but the third piece of the midfield trio is still to be determined. In the friendlies against Romania and Albania, manager Mykhaylo Fomenko opted to start with three holding midfielders – his propensity for players in this position has become something of a running joke among Ukrainian fans.
Three of the candidates are from Dynamo Kyiv: Serhiy Rybalka, Serhiy Sydorchuk, and Denys Harmash. None of the three have had particularly stellar domestic seasons. In fact, for much of the season, Sydorchuk was displaced in Dynamo’s starting eleven by the 23-year old Vitaliy Buyalskyi, who was not even included in the provisional squad.
In both of the aforementioned friendlies, Fomenko began the match with three holding midfielders but, after dismal displays in the first half, he made adjustments that ended up significantly improving the overall performance.
In the Romania match, it was the FC Ufa midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko who was introduced at halftime and sparked a 4-3 comeback victory. In fact, within minutes of coming on, the 19-year old became Ukraine’s youngest ever goalscorer. Against Albania it was Shakhtar’s 20-year old midfielder Viktor Kovalenko who had a similar impact and raised the side’s level.
Both Zinchenko and Kovalenko are very young and inexperienced at the international level, but also provide the best option for a creative presence and good passering of the ball in the middle of the pitch. The key question is whether Fomenko will be willing to sacrifice a holding midfielder and give one of the young stars an opportunity to shine at the highest level. Zinchenko has actually already been linked with a move to Borussia Dortmund, and an impressive Euros will see his stock rise across the content.
It is more likely, however, that in the match against Germany, Fomenko will opt for the safer option and start one of Rybalka, Sydorchuk, or Harmash. Perhaps either Kovalenko or Zinchenko will come on as a substitute if needed. Given the importance of obtaining a victory in Ukraine’s following match against Northern Ireland, there is a good chance that one of them will start in that encounter.
Ukraine – Key Players
Anyone with even a passing interest in Ukrainian football knows by now that the two main stars of the side are the wingers Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko. Konoplyanka, the left-winger, had a rather underwhelming first season at Sevilla as he struggled to break into the squad, but remains Ukraine’s most talented player and most lethal attacking threat. His counterpart on the right-wing is Dynamo’s Andriy Yarmolenko, who is consistantly rumored to be on the verge of a switch to a European side but for now remains in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s tactics and entire approach largely revolve around these two—Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko. When they are neutralized, Ukraine struggle immensely to create chances and break down sides. This is one of the reasons why having another creative presence in the midfield to unlock defenses is so crucial.
While all eyes will be on the wingers, the role of lone striker Roman Zozulya will be equally important. Ukraine do not create many chances, and to have any chance at a victory will need to finish the few that they do create.
Starting their Euro 2016 campaign against the defending world champions is a far from ideal scenario for Ukraine. Germany may not have looked all too impressive in their recent friendlies, but are still the best team in this group and the overwhelming favorites in the opening fixture. It will be exceedingly difficult for Ukraine to get any kind of result here, and will unfortunately be playing with their backs to the wall for the remainder of the tournament.
Germany played two friendlies before the tournament started, which ended in a 3-1 loss to Slovakia in Augsburg, and a 2-0 victory against Hungary in Gelsenkirchen. German friendlies are traditionally a horrible affair, as the Bundestrainer (as the national team coach is called in Germany) often fields extremely experimental squads. Furthermore, the match against Slovakia was played under extreme conditions while Augsburg’s arena was hammered by a lightning storm—halftime had to be extended to almost 45 minutes.
In both matches Löw experimented with various formations including, 3-4-3, 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, and the traditional 4-2-3-1 formation. It is unlikely that Germany will use the 3-4-3 formation against Ukraine in the first match, but a hybrid between the last three formations is certainly possible. In fact, expect Germany to switch in and out of formation, as the match progresses.
There are two main questions for Germany going into the game against Ukraine: first, how will Joachim Löw compensate for the loss of defender Antonio Rüdiger, who himself was considered a replacement for Mats Hummels (he is expected to be fit after the group stage)? Löw nominated Bayer Leverkusen’s 20-year-old to replace Rüdiger, but it is unlikely that the 195cm 98kg defender will start against Ukraine. Instead Valencia CF’s Shkodran Mustafi appears the most likely candidate to play central defense next to Bayern Munich’s Jérôme Boateng.
The second question is, will Löw ask a typical number nine striker in the form of Beşiktaş striker Mario Gómez or will he go with the false nine option, and start Mario Götze? Mario Götze has had an injury plagued season, and seems to have fallen out of favor at Bayern Munich, where CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has announced that Götze “knows how the club will thinks about his future”, a subtle hint that Götze’s time is over at Bayern. Mario Gómez meanwhile has scored 26 goals in 33 Süper Lig appearances for Beşiktaş, and as a result has won the Gol Kralı for being the league’s best scorer this season. The choice therefore seems obvious right? No! Because Löw does not always value league form, and it is likely that Götze will start up front.
Meanwhile in defensive midfield, Germany will start without injured Bastian Schweinsteiger, but, even if he had been fit, it would have been questionable whether Germany would—or rather should—start with Schweinsteiger. Instead, expect to see Juventus Turin midfielder Sami Khedira, and Real Madrid’s midfield maestro Toni Kroos to start the match. There are some question marks over who will make up the three attacking midfielders; the most likely option is Thomas Müller on the right, Mesut Özil in the centre, and Julian Draxler on the left. Müller and Özil are very much a shoo-in, but the left side where Draxler could play remains a question mark. Here, Löw could also start with Lukas Podolski, André Schürrle, or Schalke’s young star Leroy Sané. In fact, Löw has often stated that he feels that Sané could play a major role in the tournament and it is, therefore, certain that he will feature at some point.
Germany’s Key Players
Germany is extremely rich in talent, but certain players will have to do well if Germany wants to have a chance to do well in the match Germany vs Ukraine, and at the tournament as a whole. Key will be the two defensive backs, Jonas Hector on the left and Benedikt Höwedes on the right. Germany has struggled in the full back position for years, and the retirement of Philip Lahm—probably at the time the best full-back in the world—has not improved the situation. Höwedes, who plays as a centre back for his club Schalke, filled this role well during the World Cup, Hector meanwhile plays his first tournament, and it will be interesting to see how he copes with the situation.
In central defence, Boateng has turned from being a constant liability to being one of the best defenders in the world. He will be without regular partner, and future Bayern Munich teammate, Mats Hummels in the first few matches, and will therefore be asked to cover, whoever Löw choses as his partner.
The central striker, whether it will be Götze or Gómez, will also be key. Germany has a wealth of talented offensive players, but converting the chances created by the Özil and co. will be key. Özil will also play a major role here. He had to play as a left winger two years ago in Brazil, but a fantastic season with Arsenal now means that Löw wants to use him as a playmaker. It will therefore be up to Mesut Özil to create the necessary chances for whoever plays up front.
Finally, there is Toni Kroos, who has become a major asset at Real Madrid. The Champions League winner, is slowly also becoming the silent leader of the Nationalmannschaft, and could be a captain in the making. Ukraine will have to put pressure on him if they want to take anything from the match.
Germany may not have looked impressive in friendlies but, as was explained above, they rarely do. In fact, the Nationalmannschaft has a tradition of doing well in tournaments—Germans use the term Turniermannschaft (tournament team). Hence, everything but a victory will be a disappointment for Germany but, at the same time, Germany has always slipped at least once in the group stage during the last few tournaments.
Vadim Furmanov is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Originally from Ukraine, Vadim has resided in Chicago since 1994 and is a passionate supporter of both Dynamo Kyiv and the Ukrainian national team. He is also a Chicago Fire season ticket holder and a member of the Fire’s Section 8 supporters group. He writes primarily about Ukrainian football, as well as the intersection between football, politics, and history. You can follow Vadim on Twitter @vfurmanov
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London. His thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be available soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus