Kosovo vs Ukraine, Friday, October 6 19:45 BST/20:45 CET Loro Boriçi Stadium – Shkodër, Albania
October will see the final two fixtures of the first round of FIFA 2018 World Cup qualification in Europe. While the fates of Groups A-H are all but certain, Group I is still anyone’s to take.
After Iceland’s shocking defeat to Finland and Ukraine’s victory over Turkey on Match Day 7, it seemed zbirna would finally take matters into its own hands. Unfortunately, it did not capitalise on this opportunity. Match Day 8 saw both Ukraine and Croatia drop points to Iceland and Turkey, respectively. Now, with two matches left to play, anything can happen.
Croatia and Iceland lead the group with 16 points while Turkey and Ukraine trail with 14 points. Moreover, goal differential will play a significant factor in deciding the victor of this group. While Croatia holds a dominant goal differential of +9, Turkey, Iceland, and Ukraine all hold a goal differential of +4 (Turkey has scored 12 goals and has conceded 8, Iceland and Ukraine have both scored 11 goals and conceded 7). Given these statistics, points alone may not be enough to qualify directly for the World Cup finals in Russia.
Ukraine will face Kosovo on Match Day 9 in Shkodër, Albania. Meanwhile, Croatia will host Finland while Iceland will travel to Turkey. It is expected Croatia will collect all three points against Finland, thus maintaining its place as the leaders of Group I.
Zbirna needs to take advantage of its match against Kosovo, where Ukraine is also expected to win. The match against Turkey and Iceland, however, does not define a clear winner. An ideal scenario for Ukraine would see Turkey and Iceland drop points, where a draw is the most favourable outcome.
Should Match Day 9 end with these results, Match Day 10 will surely provide some exciting football, as it will be a winner-take-all scenario. Turkey will travel to Finland and Iceland will host Kosovo, where both sides are expected to win against the two weaker teams in Group I. Meanwhile, Ukraine will host Croatia in Kyiv on the final day of contention.
Simply put, this is a must-win match for Ukraine. If zbirna fails to win this fixture, it certainly will be knocked out of World Cup contention. Ukraine has not always been convincing at the start of its matches, but in many cases, it pulled off a result in the second half. It is predicted a similar scenario will occur in this match: expect zbirna to start slowly, but by full-time Ukraine will collect all three points.
Kosovo vs Ukraine – Players to Watch:
Atdhe Nuhiu #21 – Kosovo (Sheffield Wednesday)
As one of Kosovo’s leading goal scorers in this competition, Nuhiu will hope to add to his goal scoring tally in this match. The striker has appeared regularly for English Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, and he will hope to translate his club success to his national team.Kosovo has yet to win a competitive fixture in this World Cup qualification campaign, and Nuhiu will hope to turn that around on Match Day 9. A victory would make history for dardanët.
Marlos #9 – Ukraine (Shakhtar Donetsk)
With the suspension of Viktor Kovalenko and Oleksandr Zinchenko in this match, zbirna will need to turn to a new playmaker in midfield. Marlos may be able to fill this gap.Marlos, who arrived in January 2012, has had a good spell in the Ukrainian Premier Liha for both Metalist Kharkiv and Shakhtar Donetsk, and it is without question that he will have similar success for the Ukrainian national team. Having been naturalised in September 2017, Marlos expressed his gratitude for being called up to the national team, and he will be sure not to disappoint Shevchenko nor the fans of the Ukrainian national team. His role in Ukraine’s final two qualifiers, however, will not come without controversy. While his naturalisation and selection into the squad has been viewed positively, there are a few Ukrainian fans who are sceptical, sighting his inclusion will prevent the development of Ukrainian-born players. Another criticism is that Marlos does not speak Ukrainian or Russian, although he has taken steps to learn these languages.Regardless of the backlash, Shevchenko has one thing on his mind: qualifying for the FIFA 2018 World Cup with the strongest available squad.
Kosovo vs Ukraine Match Stats
- Marlos is the second Brazilian-born footballer to play for zbirna (Edmar is the first).
- FIFA officially recognised the Kosovan national football team in May 2016.
- The FIFA 2018 World Cup qualification period is the dardanët’s first international competition, where it earned its first competitive point in September 2016 against Finland.
- Ukraine is one of the 78 members of the United Nations that does not recognise Kosovo as an independent country. Since the Ukrainian government does not recognise Kosovan passports, the first fixture between these two sides was played in Krakow, Poland, where Ukraine won 3-0.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Kosovo vs Ukraine 0-3
Kosovo vs Ukraine – Possible Lineups
Ujkani – Paqarada, Rrahmani, Jashanica, Vojvoda – Alushi – B. Berisha, Zeneli, Kryeziu, Rashica – Nuhiu
Manager: Albert Bunjaki
Pyatov – Matviyenko, Ordets, Khacheridi, Sobol – Stepanenko, Rotan – Yarmolenko, Marlos, Konoplyanka – Kravets
Manager: Andriy Shevchenko
Mark Temnycky is a Ukrainian-American who earned a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Arts in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in June 2017. He is pursuing a career in international relations and foreign policy. Follow Mark on Twitter @MTem33