Ukraine begins its Euro 2024 qualifying journey with a tough clash against England at Wembley on Sunday, March 26th.
Joining Italy, North Macedonia and Malta in Group C, England and Ukraine will both fancy their chances of reaching the competition proper in Germany next year, but a strong start is vital.
England's last game with Ukraine also had an Italian connection as both sides met in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in Rome and Gareth Southgate's side claimed an impressive 4-0 win over Andriy Shevchenko's Ukraine en route to the final.
Ukraine have never beaten England away from home in four previous attempts (losing three of them), with this their first away game on English soil since a 1-1 draw in a World Cup qualifier (September 2012).
The Three Lions have already claimed a historic win in Napes and another win against Ukraine would significantly boost their top-two credentials.
Indeed, England return to Wembley Stadium after a memorable win in Italy to kick off their Euro 2024 campaign in a perfect way. It was the first time since 1961 that England had won away against Italy but Gareth Southgate's side shouldn't get carried away.
All in all, The Three Lions are winless in their last three home matches (0-2-1) and they shipped three or more goals in their last two – a 4-0 defeat to Hungary as well as a 3-3 draw with rivals Germany in last year's UEFA Nations League. England have never shipped three or more goals in three successive home games in their history.
After scoring his 54th international goal against Italy against Italy at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Thursday, Harry Kane stands alone at the top of the England scoring charts. Furthermore, Kane scored a brace in England's 4-0 win over Ukraine at Euro 2020 and the Tottenham Hotspur ace will be aiming to add to his tally when he returns to his homeland.
Harry Kane's proficiency in qualifying games has been quite remarkable. He’s been directly involved in 42 goals in just 28 appearances in qualifying games for major tournaments with 33 goals and nine assists for the England captain. He has revealed the special boots he will wear against Ukraine – and they include a reference to his goal-scoring record – so we expect even more from him this weekend.
Luke Shaw has been sent off against Italy on Friday night and is suspended, while midfielder Jude Bellingham is a doubt. The Borussia Dortmund star was the name on everyone’s lips after a powerful display in England’s victory against Italy but he also sparked worry after limping off late on.
Closely monitored by major European clubs, Bellingham has yet to miss a match for Borussia Dortmund through injury this season, and is already a pivotal figure for club and country. However, if the 19-year-old midfielder is not fully fit to start against Ukraine, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, who also scored in the aforementioned European Championship victory, could start alongside Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips.
Shaw himself delivered two assists in England's 4-0 win over Ukraine but Ben Chilwell should be ready to deputize at left-back in their second Euro 2024 qualifier.
Should Southgate decide to rotate his backline, given the quick turnaround between games, Reece James and Kieran Trippier are in contention to start at right-back. Meanwhile, Phil Foden, Conor Gallagher and James Maddison are also pushing for starts here.
This will be Ukraine's first official match since the goalless draw with Scotland in the UEFA Nations League last September. Ruslan Rotan has been appointed as an interim coach and will make his debut against one of the strongest European teams at the moment.
The Blue and Yellow played a behind closed doors friendly match against Brentford B on Thursday and claimed a 2-0 win with goals from Oleksandr Svatok and youngster Heorhii Sudakov.
The Ukrainian national team have been training at the Robert Rowan Performance Centre – Brentford's new training facility – this week ahead of their opening Euro 2024 qualifier with England at Wembley on Sunday.
Ukraine will next travel to face North Macedonia in mid-June before they host Malta (of course, they don't play their matches in Ukraine right now) in another European Championship qualifier a few days later.
Oleksandr Zinchenko himself, as well as the likes of experienced midfielder Serhiy Sydorchuk and captain Andriy Yarmolenko were all absent from Thursday's warm-up game for various reasons. First of all, Zinchenko was rested, Sydorchuk was struck down by an illness, while Yarmolenko still recovers from an injury and remains a doubt for Sunday.
With three goals and three assists to his name in seven matches ever since he joined La Liga side Girona this winter, Viktor Tsygankov entered the break by scoring a brace in Girona's 2-2 draw at Rayo Vallecano.
Speaking about this Ukrainian generation, Roman Yaremchuk is one of the players who suffer the biggest dip in form this season. The 27-year-old Club Brugge striker will be looking to score his first goal since October.
Elsewhere, Ruslan Malinovskyi joined Ligue 1 side Olympique Marseille on loan until the end of the season in January, while Mykhailo Mudryk became the most expensive Ukrainian footballer of all time when he joined Premier League giants Chelsea this winter. However, Mudryk was yet to score or assist until Chelsea's 3–1 victory at Leicester City earlier this month, yet he remained an unused substitute in the 2-2 draw with Everton just before the break.
Real Madrid's backup goalkeeper Andriy Lunin should start between the sticks as veteran Andriy Pyatov was left out of the squad.
Ilya Zabarnyi, who joined Premier League side Bournemouth in January, still recovers from an ankle injury and remains sidelined, so Dynamo Kyiv's Denys Popov could start alongside Mykola Matviyenko at center-back.
Eduard Sobol is another Ukrainian player who joined a major European league this winter. The 27-year-old left-back made a move to Ligue 1 side Strasbourg and his versatility could see him play as a left midfielder, though the left flank seems to be the most competitive place for Ukraine, with players like Vitaliy Mykolenko, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Mykhailo Mudryk and Eduard Sobol all capable of playing in different roles.
England: Jordan Pickford – Ben Chilwell, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Reece James – Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, Jordan Henderson – Phil Foden, Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka. (4-3-3)
Ukraine: Andriy Lunin – Vitaliy Mykolenko, Denys Popov, Mykola Matviyenko, Oleksandr Karavaev – Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ruslan Malinovskyi, Taras Stepanenko – Mykhailo Mudryk, Roman Yaremchuk, Viktor Tsygankov. (4-3-3)
Gareth Southgate's side are strong favorites to make it two from two in their opening set of the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.
England impressed in the first half against Italy and were even close to earn a bigger lead against the hosts. However, the second half was a typical conservative Gareth Southgate production and England managed to retain their lead, though the Azzurri were back in the game when Mateo Retegui scored.
Still, four of England's defensive players (three defenders + their defensive midfielder) were booked (one of them with a red card) against Italy, which suggests that they can be vulnerable and that's something Ruslan Rotan will be looking to expose on Sunday.
Having lost only two of their previous 19 European Championship qualifying matches (winning 13), Ukraine have the pedigree to cause an upset. They already went unbeaten as they topped their Euro 2020 qualifying group (that included Portugal) and if anyone is to disrupt the England-Italy one-two at the top of qualifying Group C, it should be them.
To be fair, it will be fairly disappointing if the war-torn nation fails to deliver some sort of optimism to its citizens in such a devastating moment for all Ukrainians. With that said, we expect a wholehearted performance from Ukraine, but they will hardly have enough quality to leave the English capital with something from this match, which doesn't mean they cannot score.