Play-offs for major competitions have often brought heartache for Ukraine but Mykhailo Fomenko says past results count for little going into the first leg of their Euro 2016 qualifiier against Slovenia on Saturday.
The nations meet at the Arena Lviv this weekend after finishing third in their respective pools, with Fomenko seeking to end Ukraine’s usual difficulties in play-off ties.
Ukraine have failed to negotiate two-legged knock-out fixtures ahead the World Cups in 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014, while Saturday’s opponents added to that unwanted record in qualifying for Euro 2000.
A 3-2 play-off success secured Srekco Kanatec’s Slovenia side a spot at the competition in Belgium and the Netherlands, with next week’s second leg faling exactly 16 years after the 1-1 draw that sealed their progression.
As Fomenko seeks to inflict a first Ukrainian defeat on Slovenia in five attempts this weekend, despite the absence of suspended pair Olexandr Kucher and Taras Stepanenko, the coach acknowledged: “There’s not much to be cheerful about.
“Ukraine have lost all their previous finals play-offs, but that is history now. We are living for today and focusing on the future. Of course it would be better to start away but we cannot change anything about the draw.
“We have experience of beating France in a home first leg [in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup] and will use that in our preparations.”
Slovenia’s other experience of European Championship qualification play-offs resulted in defeat to Croatia [ahead of Euro 2004], although the nation have seen off Romania and Russia in play-offs to reach recent World Cups.
Katanec – currently in his second spell at the helm – has recalled Miso Brecko, Sinisa Andjelkovic and Benjamin Verbic for the play-offs but remains wary of a dangerous Ukraine side.
“I have watched all of Ukraine’s qualifying matches. They conceded only four goals, that is amazing,” he explained.
“Ukraine have a technically sophisticated and robust team. Their wingers are great, their only problems are in defence and maybe in picking up bookings.
“Our FIFA ranking [having dropped to 64th place, with Ukraine 28th] will not play any role in these play-offs. In such matches you also need some luck. We will play two games in three days, and in this situation sometimes even the best teams can slip.
“Miso Brecko was twice missing [in September and October], but these are matches in which we need experienced guys. Three days, two matches, one aim – I am sure that with the right approach we can be successful and we can bring some joy to Slovenia again.”
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