After a slow start to their FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign, Ukraine registered a vital and morale-boosting 3-1 win over Poland on Friday, keeping their hopes alive of reaching Brazil 2014.
Now they host Moldova in Group G and Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov is desperate to relive the "fairytale" of reaching the FIFA World Cup, after being an unused substitute at Germany 2006. However, the Shakthar Donetsk stopper remains confident that they can still the finals, despite trailing second-placed England by six points - albeit with a game in hand.
The Ukraine No1 speaks with FIFA.com on their chances of reaching the global showpiece, the current state of the national team, as well as the success he has had with his club - who are in the hunt for a fourth straight domestic title.
FIFA.com: How important are these games against Poland and Moldova in defining your chances of reaching Brazil?
Andriy Pyatov: They’re really important. We need to collect all six points from those two games. How those games turn out will determine things further down the line. You always have to focus on the next game, that’s always the most important one.
How sure are you that Ukraine will reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil? What must happen?
The main thing is to have confidence. Without that, there’s not even any point in stepping onto the pitch. We’re confident in our ability. We’re preparing for those games at the moment, and we want to show what we’re capable of.
What would it mean to you to play at a FIFA World Cup?
For any footballer, that’s a really big deal. After all, the World Cup is the most prestigious tournament in world football, and qualifying for the finals is a major achievement in itself. And then playing in this festival of football and achieving success – well, for a sportsman, that’s completely amazing. I’d like to see Ukraine competing more often in major tournaments.
You were in the squad at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. How did it feel at that time?
At the time, I was 22. I was stressed, of course, worried. At that age, getting to the World Cup makes you feel – well, you just can’t describe it. On top of that, Ukraine performed well – getting to the quarter-finals in the country’s first appearance in the World Cup finals made millions of Ukrainians happy, and it felt like I was living a fairytale. I’d like to experience the same thing now that I’m a bit older, particularly as I wasn’t involved in qualification. This time it will be twice as hard, but it will feel twice as good when we deliver.
Mikhail Fomenko is the new coach of Ukraine. What are your early impressions and how does he differ from Oleg Blokhin?
It’s not up to me to talk about coaches. Each coach has his own outlook on football, and chooses the tactics which he thinks will deliver success. Our responsibility is to follow the coach’s instructions and do our job.
Getting to the quarter-finals in the country’s first appearance in the World Cup finals made millions of Ukrainians happy, and it felt like I was living a fairytale.
What kind of things does the national team need to be successful in the future?
We’re currently going through a changing of the guard. We’ve got some young players and we’ve got some experienced ones. Maybe things haven’t clicked instantly, the way we would like them to, but that’s what happens with any team when different generations come and go. We played well against England, but then against Moldova and Montenegro things didn’t go so well. But the main thing is to believe in your own ability and to gain in confidence. That’s the key to success.
You have won plenty of silverware with your club Shakhtar Donetsk. How does it feel to win championships?
Despite winning the Ukrainian league three years running, every season we still want to come out on top. Shakhtar is an ambitious club, and we only set ourselves the very highest targets. We’ve got a really good chance of winning a fourth title in a row. That proves that our club is currently the best in Ukraine, and for us that’s the main thing.
Winning the league for the first time is worth so much. But what’s worth even more is defending your title and then winning it again and again, so that you prove you’re better than the other teams. That’s a lot harder. We’re not relaxing. We’re maintaining our standards and trying to go even higher. Every time you win the league, it’s unforgettable.
In this current season, you went out in the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League against Borussia Dortmund? How disappointed are you about that?
We’ve already analysed that defeat with the coach. I think that we had a good chance of going through, but we played much worse in the away leg than at home. It’s a shame, of course. But we’ve learnt lessons from that failure. We’ve become more experienced and hungrier. Next year we simply have to qualify from our group. For us, getting to the knockout stages should be the primary objective. Getting to the quarter-finals and proving our class is really important to us. We’re already respected in Europe. We’ve already come in for a wave of criticism after the defeat against Borussia, and now we’re moving on. Our current targets are the league and the Ukrainian cup.
Who will win the Champions League and why?
It’s tough to single out any one club. Barcelona were the clear favourites, but they lost [their round of 16 first leg] in Milan and their reputation has suffered a little bit. That said, at home they proved just how much better they were. Bayern Munich are another example. They were brilliant in the away leg and then lost at home. I’m not going to attempt to predict who’ll win, because these matches are unpredictable and watching them is really interesting. At this stage, every team can cause a surprise.
Do you have a role model and a favourite club?
I like the way Barcelona play. They play the sort of football I like to see.
Do you dream of playing for a big club in Europe?
Every player dreams of that, and I’m no exception. But I think that Shakhtar are not far off being one of Europe’s ten best clubs. Some experts already reckon we’re among the top ten clubs in world football. I’d like to stay here as long as possible, to help the club and to continue to build a legacy of success. We’ve already laid the foundations. I’d like to think that that’s just the start, and that we’ll be able to achieve much, much more.