For the first time since becoming an independent country, Ukraine have secured a place in the quarterfinals of the European Championship by beating Sweden after extra time in an extremely tiring round-of-16 contest on Monday. Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko opened the scoring in the 27th minute by getting on the end of a cross from West Ham forward Andriy Yarmolenko and producing a thumping volley to beat Robin Olsen in the Sweden goal. Emil Forsberg equalized with a deflected effort which found its way into the top corner in the 43rd minute. The match was eventually settled by substitute Artem Dovbyk just as the 30 minutes of extra time had expired.
It was an extremely interesting contest, one that could have gone either way at any moment. The teams alternated in domination and attacking impetus practically every few minutes, with one spending a period in the opposition half, circling the box and looking for a way through a packed defence, and then the same situation arising at the other end.
Hardly has there been such a game at the tournament so far, where both sides looked capable of scoring and conceding at any moment, even though clear-cut chances were few and far between. Stats will tell you that Ukraine had a little more of the ball (55%) and took four shots on target out of 15 overall, while Sweden had three out of 13. On the other hand, Sweden took six corners compared to Ukraine’s two.
One thing we did see in almost every game so far as much as in this one was a fierce physical battle in the middle of the park, with neither side comfortable with allowing the other to establish control over the central areas.
The fierceness shown in every contest for the ball throughout the game was likely a contributing factor to a large number of injuries in the final stages. It all started with a reckless tackle made by Marcus Danielson on Artem Besyedin, which forced the Ukrainian substitute off with what looked like a serious injury and earned the Sweden defender a red card.
The problems continued with Sweden substitute right-back Emil Krafth going down after a powerful cross from Zinchenko hit his head directly. With what happened to Denmark’s Christian Eriksen at the start of the tournament, it was only natural that Zinchenko himself signaled Krafth needing medical help and referee Daniele Orsato reacted quickly and accordingly.
Then it was Sweden defender Sehiy Kryvtsov’s turn to go down after landing awkwardly and twisting his ankle. Yarmolenko was injured in the final minute of the first extra time period and was replaced by Dovbyk, who soon made a tackle on Albin Ekdal that left the Sweden midfielder limping for a while. Sweden veteran striker Marcus Berg and Ukrainian attacker Roman Bezus, who also came on as substitutes, were next to go down in need of medical assistance. Even the Italian referee grabbed hold of his foot at one point and started limping.
The silver lining for the Swedish team will probably be that they now have time enough to rest and recover before the players’ schedules resume with their respective clubs, while Ukraine boss Andriy Shevchenko will be worried about his charges with the quarterfinals match with England to come on Saturday.
The red card
A team going a man down in a knockout match of a major international tournament is always likely to have an impact on the final result, and it certainly was the case on this occasion. The match was just under nine minutes into the first half of the extra time when Danielson tried to get the ball ahead of Besyedin with a strong tackle. He did get there before the Ukraine attacker, but he caught him full on the follow-up, studs up, unable to withdraw at that point. Orsato blew the whistle and initially judged a yellow card would suffice, but his colleagues in the VAR room thought differently and sent him to the pitch-side screen. Having seen it again, the referee changed his mind and whipped out the red.
It should be said that it didn’t look as if Danielson had the intention of injuring his opponent. He went for the ball and got it, after all, but the recklessness of tackle itself was unforgivable and Orstao’s decision to give him the marching orders can hardly be questioned. It was no surprise that Besyedin, despite the fact he had come on at full time, was unable to continue playing and needed support to walk off the pitch. He is certainly the player Shevchenko will be worried about the most, and he’ll very likely miss the quarterfinals.
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) June 30, 2021
Forsberg will likely be regretting the fact that his team are out of the tournament the most. The equalizer he scored was his fourth at the tournament, putting him level with Czech Republic’s Patrick Schick and only behind Cristiano Ronaldo (5), for whom the Euros are over as well. Had Sweden gone through, he would have an arguably realistic chance of fighting for the top scorer accolade.
The 29-year-old RB Leipzig man looked lively for most of the game, fading only slightly towards the end when fatigue was obviously kicking in with practically every player on the pitch. He was involved in almost everything good Sweden produced, and apart from the goal scored, he hit the post from around 20 yards having been set up nicely by Alexander Isak early in the second half.
This was obviously the tournament which he saw as a chance to shine, and for himself, he certainly took that chance.
However, there can be no doubt that the man who impacted the game the most was Ukraine’s Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Oleksandr Zinchenko ✨ pic.twitter.com/AcKqk1AiIQ
— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 29, 2021
A naturally versatile midfielder, Zinchenko has spent most of his time at Manchester City playing on the left defensive flank, and it never felt as if the Premier League champions had a weakness there because of it. The 24-year-old always gives his best, and this game was no exception.
Deployed in his preferred role (on the left side of midfield), he contributed much going forward – after all, it was him that scored the opening goal and created Dovbyk’s winner. But given his usual role under Pep Guardiola, he was also quite able to help out defensively, providing immense support to Ludwig Augustinsson, tasked with closing that flank down.
It’s hard to tell just how much chance Ukraine have against England on Saturday, but one thing seems certain – they, as well as Manchester City, have a real gem in Zinchenko.
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