Mark Temnycky –
The Ukrainian national team will travel to Austria for a friendly match against Malta and then to Tampere Stadium in Tampere this month to face Finland on qualification match day six. Ukraine saw its first defeat under Andriy Shevchenko’s tenure against Croatia back in March. While the friendly match against Malta will showcase Ukraine’s younger talent, zbirna will surely want to bounce back from its defeat in Zagreb by collecting all three points against Finland to keep pace with Group I leaders Croatia and second-placed Iceland. The Futbolgrad Network looks ahead to both Ukraine vs Malta, and Finland vs Ukraine in this preview.
Notable Omissions and New Additions to the Squad
Following zbirna’s loss against Croatia in March, Shevchenko has made some changes in this round’s team list. The first notable omission is Denys Boyko, who has typically been Ukraine’s second-string goalkeeper after veteran Andriy Pyatov. Andriy Lunin of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk has taken his place. The second major omission is veteran fullback Artem Fedetskiy, who has also lost favorability in the squad under Shevchenko’s tenure. Finally, Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko was not recalled into the squad.
Roman Zozulya, who has faced a dip in his career after tensions between Real Betis and its fans, has also been withdrawing from the squad. It should be noted, however, that Zozulya honourably requested that he not be included in Shevchenko’s squad as he does not “want to stand in the way of a young talent.”
A surprising decision was also made. Denys Harmash, who is infamously known for being hot-headed and earning bookings for being unable to control his emotions, has been recalled to the squad. Eduard Sobol has also returned to the team following his suspension against Croatia for earning a double booking.
Finally, Artem Kravets, Ruslan Rotan, Ivan Petryak, and Viktor Tsyhankov, who were called into the senior squad for zbirna’s previous World Cup qualifiers, have been placed on the reserves.
Ukraine vs Malta
According to the FIFA World Rankings, the Malta national football team is ranked 182 in the world. Thus it is one of the weakest national teams. Moreover, the Knights of Malta sit at the bottom of Group F and have a goal differential of -11. Hence they have had a poor qualification campaign. Due to their poor standings, it is likely that Shevchenko will field a more youthful side to further develop Ukraine’s up and coming prospects. Also, should a few of these young players have a standout performance against Malta, it is possible that Shevchenko may field them in the match against Finland. It is important to note, however, that this game will be played in Austria, and then zbirna travel to Finland for World Cup qualifiers a few days later, thus travel, and fatigue may influence their performance in this World Cup qualifying match.
Finland vs Ukraine
The qualification round six will see zbirna travel to Finland, who sit in fifth place in Group I. Unlike Ukraine, which have had much success throughout the World Cup qualification process, Finland has not had similar progress. The Huuhkajat have only collected one point from five matches. Thus the Finns will be disappointed with their qualification process. Based on their performances, it would appear on paper that the Ukrainians have the upper hand in this match. The Ukrainians also won the reverse fixture back in November, and though the nervy game finished 1-0 in Ukraine’s favour, it is unlikely that the Ukrainians will drop any points in Tampere. Therefore, if the Ukrainians have any hope of keeping the pressure on Iceland and Croatia, they must collect all three points in this fixture.
Ukraine vs Malta and Finland vs Ukraine – Predictions
First placed Croatia will travel to second place Iceland, while Kosovo host fourth-placed Turkey. Based on the stakes of this match, Ukraine must claim all three points against Finland if it has any hopes of qualifying for the World Cup. Moreover, it is likely that a victory over Finland and dropped points between Iceland and Croatia on matchday six will see Ukraine in favourable standings in Group I.
Friendly Prediction: Ukraine vs Malta 3-1
World Cup Qualifier Prediction: Finland vs Ukraine 1-2
Ukraine vs Malta and Finland vs Ukraine – Squad List
Zbirna’s squad list for the match against Malta and Finland is as followed:
Goalkeepers: Andriy Pyatov, Mykyta Shevchenko (both Shakhtar Donetsk); Andriy Lunin (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk)
Defenders: Oleksandr Kucher, Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Bohdan Butko, Ivan Ordets, Serhiy Kryvtsov (all Shakhtar); Mykola Morozyuk (Dynamo Kyiv); Eduard Sobol (Zorya Luhansk); Mykola Matviyenko (Karpaty Lviv)
Midfielders: Taras Stepanenko, Maksym Malyshev, Viktor Kovalenko (all Shakhtar); Andriy Yarmolenko, Serhiy Sydorchuk, Denys Harmash, Volodymyr Shepelyev (all Dynamo); Yevhen Konoplyanka (Schalke 04); Yevhen Shakhov (PAOK); Ruslan Malinovskyi (Genk)
Forwards: Yevhen Seleznyov (Karabükspor); Artem Besyedin (Dynamo)
Reserves: Artem Kravets (Granada CF); Ruslan Rotan, Artem Dovbyk (both Dnipro); Ivan Petryak (Zorya), Viktor Tsyhankov (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