Ukraine v North Macedonia: Shevchenko talks up mentality as unwanted record looms

By Sports Desk June 16, 2021

Andriy Shevchenko has no worries about Ukraine's mentality as they look to end what is a historic European Championship losing streak against North Macedonia on Thursday.

Ukraine will have gained admirers for their spirited performance against Netherlands on Sunday, as they fought back to 2-2 from 2-0 down – before Andriy Yarmolenko's screamer, they had not scored any of their previous 72 shots in the Euros.

Unfortunately for them, they switched off late on and Denzel Dumfries scored the Oranje's winner in a 3-2 victory, but the performance showed Ukraine can cause problems for the traditionally better teams.

But against tournament debutants North Macedonia on Thursday they will have to cope with the pressure of being favourites, a potentially confusing situation for Ukraine given they are just one defeat short of setting a new Euros record for consecutive losses (currently six, level with Yugoslavia).

In fact, those six defeats equate to 86 per cent (6/7) of Ukraine's total Euros matches, which is the worst losing percentage of any nation to play at least five games in the tournament.

But Shevchenko is adamant his players know the gravity of the situation.

"We have complete understanding within the team," he told reporters. "We know the tasks we have ahead of us and additional words aren't necessary. The team is getting ready mentally.

"This is a really important tournament. It's not every year that we get to the group stage of the European Championship, so every player understands the importance of each match and has responsibility for their own game and the game of the team.

"So, we don't need any additional words."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ukraine – Ruslan Malinovskiy

After a stellar season with Atalanta, Malinovskiy came into the Euros with much of Ukraine's creative burden placed on his shoulders. While he was quiet at times against the Netherlands, his three key passes were not bettered by anyone else on the pitch. A good dribbler and generally classy player, North Macedonia would be wise to pay him special attention – though he can still be decisive from set-pieces, as highlighted by his assist for Roman Yaremchuk on Sunday.

 

North Macedonia – Enis Bardhi

While their squad may not be full of instantly recognisable names, in the likes of Goran Pandev, Eljif Elmas and Bardhi, they definitely possess some technical ability. Given they will likely be under pressure again for long periods, the latter's expertise at free-kicks could be particularly dangerous. Since he joined Levante in 2017, only Lionel Messi has scored more goals than Bardhi (six) from such situations.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- North Macedonia's 3-1 defeat to Austria was their first defeat by more than one goal since losing 2-0 to Poland in October 2019. They have not lost consecutive games by two or more goals since a run of three between June and September 2005 (6-1 vs Czech Republic and 3-0 and 5-1 defeats vs Finland).

- All four of Ukraine's goals at the European Championship have been scored in the second half, attempting 37 efforts at goal without success in the first half of matches. They are the only nation to play at least five matches at the Euros and never score in the first half of a game.

- Pandev – who has scored 20 more goals than any other North Macedonian player in history (38) – netted his first international goal on August 21, 2002 against Malta in a friendly, 11 days before Ukrainian centre-half Illia Zabarnyi was born (September 1, 2002).

- Pandev scored his nation's first goal at a major tournament in their first game against Austria. He will become the oldest player to ever score in consecutive matches in the same European Championship tournament – five years older than the current record holder Rui Costa for Portugal at Euro 2004 (32y 87d) – if he nets against Ukraine.

- Only current manager Shevchenko (48) has scored more goals for Ukraine than Yarmolenko (41), with the West Ham winger looking to score in three consecutive matches for his national side for the first time since October 2016.

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