Just as we have predicted, Ukraine completely dominated the first leg, enjoying a 2-0 victory that makes them hot favourites to make it through ahead of the return match. Slovenia missed several good chances to score at L’viv Arena, and they clearly have a mountain to climb at Ljudski Vrt in Maribor.
With their counterattacking approach producing good results in matches against England and Switzerland, Slovenia set out to defend for their lives in the first leg in L’viv, while waiting for the opportunity on the break, but their preferred system did not bring desired results. Srecko Katanec’s charges could have taken advantage of several opposition mistakes, but both Milivoje Novakovic and Josip Ilicic lacked composure when it was needed the most and couldn’t even test Andriy Pyatov. On the other hand, Slovenia’s back line just couldn’t find a way to cope with the likes of Konoplyanka, Seleznyov and Yarmolenko, with central midfielder Garmash also coming close to scoring. As a result, the 2-0 final scoreline was by no means harsh on the visitors, who failed to prove they can match one of Europe’s in-form sides, and we don’t see how they are going to show a massive improvement in the return leg. Slovenia will be under even greater pressure in Maribor and the fact they will have to attack Ukraine from the off should give Mikhail Fomenko’s side plenty of space to exploit behind the enemy lines. The hosts have absolutely no selection worries at the moment, but the likes of Andraz Struna and Nejc Pecnik could be drafted into the side.
Ukraine are finally close to breaking the curse that saw them lose five straight play-off ties between 1998 and 2014, with one of those defeats coming at the hands of their Euro 2016 play-off opponents Slovenia. The impressive 2-0 triumph at L’viv Arena was definitely a giant step towards the tournament finals, but Mikhail Fomenko’s charges cannot afford to relax just yet having been in the same position in the 2014 World Cup play-off, only to suffer a 3-0 loss to France in the second leg. However, while Ukraine are at a similar level they were two years ago, if not better, Slovenia can by no means be compared to star-studded Les Bleus, which was all too evident in the first match against Zbirna. Ukraine clearly had no problems dealing with the pressure as they were in full control from the opening whistle and it was only a matter of time before they would break the deadlock. And even if Yevhen Seleznyov missed a glorious opportunity to make it 3-0, Mikhail Fomenko’s side have clearly grabbed this tie by the scruff of neck and we fully expect them to reaffirm their dominance in Maribor. The visitors will have Oleksandr Kucher and Taras Stepanenko back from suspension, but captain Ruslan Rotan continues to miss out.
Slovenia were utterly disappointing in the first match and things will be even more difficult for them with a burden of a two-goal deficit now on the players’ shoulders. Meanwhile, Ukraine continue to play with a great deal of confidence and they should be able to secure their progress in style.
Verdict: Ukraine Draw no bet
Best Odds: 8/11