Preview: Ukraine vs. Northern Ireland

Preview: Ukraine vs. Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland will hope to make it back-to-back wins in friendlies when they travel to Ukraine on Thursday.

Ian Baraclough’s side earned a convincing 3-0 win over Malta on Sunday, while their opponents are busy preparing for the European Championships.

The two countries last met five years ago in the group stage of Euro 2016, when Northern Ireland picked up a historic 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn.

Ukraine will return to the Championships this summer and Thursday is the second of their three warmup games, but Northern Ireland’s hopes of competing in the tournament were crushed in an extra time defeat to Slovakia in the playoff final last year.

Sadly, the Green and White Army will watch on from the sofa this summer before resuming World Cup qualifying in September, but they will certainly want to head into the summer on a high.

Baraclough’s time in charge so far has not been without its disappointments – that playoff defeat was sandwiched in a Nations League campaign that ended in relegation – and the victory over Malta was the first time in 12 attempts that he had won a game in 90 minutes.

Jordan Jones opened the scoring after just two minutes before goals from Gavin Whyte and Ali McCann early in the second half killed the game off; it was Northern Ireland’s biggest margin of victory since September 2018.

For Ukraine, it has been a topsy turvy few years. They went through 2019 unbeaten, topping their group ahead of Portugal in qualification for the Euros but since the start of 2020 they have won only two of 11 matches.

All of their four fixtures so far in 2021 have ended in 1-1 draws, which range from the respectable – against France in World Cup qualifying – to the worrying – against 98th-ranked Bahrain in a friendly last month.

At the European Championships, Ukraine have been drawn in Group C along with the Netherlands, North Macedonia and Austria and will fancy their chances of getting to the knockout stages at a major tournament for the first time since 2006.

That was the era of Andriy Shevchenko, who is now the manager of the national team, a role he has held since 2016. The current squad is headlined by Premier League stars Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Ukraine form (all competitions):
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Northern Ireland form (all competitions):
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