Ukraine and North Macedonia meet in Bucharest on Thursday afternoon, hoping to claim three crucial points in their second Group C match at Euro 2020.
Both sides tasted defeat in their opening games, with Andriy Shevchenko’s men losing a thrilling 3-2 encounter with the Netherlands, while the Red Lynxes were defeated 3-1 by Austria.
Ukraine were unable to replicate their efforts from Euro 2012 and win their opening group game, as they came up short against the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Sunday.
After a frantic yet goalless first half, Dutch captain Georginio Wijnaldum pounced on a loose ball to break the deadlock in the 52nd minute, before Wout Weghorst’s first-time finish from a tight angle doubled their lead six minutes later.
Ukraine were seemingly heading for defeat; however, Shevchenko’s men had other ideas. With 15 minutes remaining, a classic left-footed strike from Andriy Yarmolenko, cutting in from the right flank, pulled one back for the Yellow and Blue before a powerful header from Roman Yaremchuk completed the comeback four minutes later.
The 16,000 Dutch fans in the Johan Cruijff ArenA were silenced heading into the final 10 minutes, but right wing-back Denzel Dumfries ensured they were to roar once more as his 85th-minute header from Nathan Ake’s cross sealed all three points for Frank De Boer’s side.
Despite defeat, Ukraine can take positives from their opening match. Going toe-to-toe with one of Europe’s top nations is no mean feat and their fighting spirit to get back into the game will have pleased Shevchenko.
Ukraine will, however, need to claim something against Euro 2020’s lowest-ranked side North Macedonia if they are to keep their hopes of securing a top-two finish in Group C alive.
The Yellow and Blue, who will be the favourites heading into Thursday’s clash, have only ever faced the Red Lynxes four times in their history, winning their last two encounters in 2014 and 2015 without conceding a goal.
North Macedonia’s first ever match at a major tournament ended in defeat against Austria, who claimed their first ever victory at a European Championships, winning 3-1 in Bucharest on Sunday.
Stefan Lainer’s brilliant volley in the 18th minute was quickly cancelled out 10 minutes later, when 37-year-old Goran Pandev pounced on a defensive mix-up inside the penalty area and tapped in to an empty net, to become the second-oldest goalscorer in the tournament’s history.
Parity was restored and confidence grew amongst the North Macedonian players, but they were unable to carve out any more clear-cut chances. The Austrians remained a threat and the second-half substitutions made by Franco Foda proved decisive, as goals from forwards Michael Gregoritsch and Marko Arnautovic sealed all three points for Das Team.
Igor Angelovski will have been proud of the brave efforts shown by his players despite suffering defeat, although an even greater performance will likely be needed if they are to claim a much-needed win against Ukraine.
North Macedonia’s only victory against the Yellow and Blue came back in 2004 when they won a friendly encounter 1-0 on home soil.
The Red Lynxes, however, failed to score in their other three meetings against them and they can ill afford to draw another blank on Thursday if they are to reach the last 16.
Ukraine European Championship form:
Ukraine form (all competitions):
North Macedonia European Championship form:
North Macedonia form (all competitions):