- Andriy Shevchenko hopeful ahead of key qualifying double-header
- Ukraine coach was present in London as The Best finalists were announced
- Former AC Milan forward discussed upcoming games against Kosovo and Croatia
The road to Russia has not been straightforward for any of the participants in Europe’s FIFA World Cup™ qualifying Group I. Just two points separate Croatia, Iceland, Turkey and Ukraine, with the latter three of those sides on exactly the same goal difference. With just one automatic spot, and a potential play-off for only the second-placed side, on offer, the situation in the section could hardly be tighter.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) September 5, 2017
“It’s a very difficult group,” Ukraine’s coach Andriy Shevchenko told FIFA.com. “Since the beginning of qualifying, all the coaches have been talking about the balance in this group. It’s very equal. It’s very difficult to play Iceland or Croatia away, or Ukraine at home.”
The latter point was added with a smile, with the Ukrainian legend – his country’s all-time top goalscorer with 48 international goals – well aware of the challenge his side pose any opposition.
“We have a good chance,” Shevchenko added. “We have two very important games coming up against Kosovo and Croatia. I think everything is going in the right direction for us.”
Ukraine's story so far:
Qualifying form: DDWWLWWL
05/09/16: UKR 1-1 ISL
06/10/16: TUR 2-2 UKR
09/10/16: UKR 3-0 KVX
12/11/16: UKR 1-0 FIN
24/03/17: CRO 1-0 UKR
11/06/17: FIN 1-2 UKR
02/09/17: UKR 2-0 TUR
05/09/17: ISL 2-0 UKR
But what will it take for Ukraine to win both remaining games, and give themselves a chance of adding to their sole World Cup appearance at Germany 2006?
“To win these games you don’t have to only turn up and play,” Shevchenko said. “You have to give the best performance because the pressure, the atmosphere and the importance of the game is huge. We are preparing well, and I hope that we can perform well.”
Having scored twice at the 2006 finals, helping his side reach a quarter-final in their only World Cup appearance to date, Shevchenko is well aware that appearances on the global stage can put his players in a brighter and more focused spotlight.
The former AC Milan and Chelsea forward was speaking to FIFA.com as the finalists for The Best FIFA Football Awards were announced in London. He is optimistic that Ukrainians can challenge for top individual honours soon.
“I hope recognition [for Ukrainian players] can come soon,” he said. “In Ukraine we have a couple of very good young players and a few established players. Andriy Yarmolenko is playing at Borussia Dortmund and Yevhen Konoplyanka at Schalke. I always hope for Ukrainian players to perform well, and perhaps be nominated for one of The Best awards, either for The Best Men’s Player or perhaps The Best Goalkeeper.”
A pair of wins to round off Ukraine’s qualifying campaign would go some way to helping his players reach the global finals, and emulate their coach in becoming one of world football's leading lights.
Ukraine's final games:
06/10/17 (20:45 local time)
Kosovo v Ukraine (Loro Borici Stadium, Shkoder)
09/10/17 (21:45 local time)
Ukraine v Croatia (Olympic National Sports Complex, Kyiv)