Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Ukraine edge past Slovakia


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Duesseldorf, June 21: Ukraine’s third comeback triumph in four competitive games in 2024 kept it in contention at the European Championship on Friday as Roman Yaremchuk’s goal sealed a 2-1 victory over Slovakia.
After two 2-1 comeback wins in the playoffs in March to reach Euro 2024, beating Slovakia by the same score revives the team’s campaign. Its players are hoping to show Ukrainians’ resilience at the tournament, more than two years on from Russia’s full-scale invasion of its country.
Ukraine’s poor goal difference following a 3-0 loss to Romania on Monday meant another defeat would have put it on the brink of elimination.
Playing in heavy rain, Slovakia took the lead in the 17th minute with a header from Ivan Schranz, who also scored the only goal in its surprise 1-0 win over Belgium four days earlier.
Oleksandr Zinchenko then crossed low for Mykola Shaparenko to score Ukraine’s opening goal of the tournament in the 54th.
Shaparenko played his part in the second goal, too, sending a long pass over the top for Yaremchuk, who controlled the ball with his first touch before prodding it past goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.
Slovakia is level with Ukraine and Romania on three points in Group E. Romania and Belgium meet on Saturday.
Ukraine coach Serhiy Rebrov made four changes to the team which lost to Romania but the same fragility in defence remained – at least to begin with.
Goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin, in for Real Madrid’s Andriy Lunin after errors against Romania, made a series of saves early on but could do nothing to stop Schranz’s header.
Schranz was left free at the far post when his marker Zinchenko jumped to intercept a cross which flew over his head.
Ukraine pushed forward after conceding but was let down by inconsistent finishing. Right-back Oleksandr Tymchyk came closest when his shot was diverted onto the post by Dubravka.
Zinchenko was at fault for the first goal, but pivotal to the second, overlapping on the left flank to receive the ball and cross low for midfielder Shaparenko, who found space to score his first international goal in nearly three years.
Bringing Yaremchuk off the bench to replace the mostly ineffective Artem Dovbyk changed the game again as he surged past the Slovakian defence to score the winner. Roman Yaremchuk is a big man but one blessed with a remarkable deftness of touch. Mykola Shaparenko’s ball into him after 80 minutes seemed neither one thing nor the other; too high to take in his stride, too low to head.
But Yaremchuk cushioned it with an upward thrust of his leg and, in one movement, nudged it past Martin Dubravka. The shot barely had enough pace to get over the line, but it had enough, and Ukraine had a win that at half-time had seemed very unlikely.
The comeback means that both Ukraine and Slovakia will qualify for the last 16 if they win their final group games next week. But bright and engaging as the game was, it was inevitably overshadowed by the political context.
Even beyond Kylian Mbappé and Marcus Thuram and their explicit appeals against the Rassemblement National in France, politics has lingered just below the surface of this tournament. (AP)


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