The keys to Ukraine's breakthrough performance

15 Jun 2019
  • Ukraine on top of the world

  • A team without stars but full of talent

  • How they conquered Poland 2019

In defeating Korea Republic 3-1 in the final of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019, Ukraine achieved one of the greatest feats in the nation’s footballing history. FIFA.com looks at the key factors behind the new world champions’ success.

'No real stars'

Oleksandr Petrakov hammered home the point at any opportunity during the tournament: “There are no stars in this team. The star is the team.” The Ukraine coach’s philosophy was applied to the letter by his players, who battled together all over the pitch in order to create one of the greatest surprises in the history of the tournament.

This collective mindset was ever-present during press interviews, when the Ukrainians would talk about the contributions of their team-mates whenever they were asked a question relating to individual performances.

LODZ, POLAND - JUNE 15: Oleksandr Petrakov, head coach of Ukraine looks on prior to the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup Final between Ukraine and Korea Republic at Lodz Stadium on June 15, 2019 in Lodz, Poland. (Photo by Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Standout performers

While the Ukrainians were unwilling to accept individual acclaim, there is little doubt that several of their players distinguished themselves during Poland 2019.

  • Andriy Lunin: In conceding just four goals at the tournament, the composed goalkeeper showed why Real Madrid had him sign on the dotted line in 2018.

  • Serhii Buletsa: Winner of the adidas Silver Ball, the influential No10 was involved in practically all of Ukraine’s incisive moves, scoring three times and recording two assists.

  • Yukhym Konoplia: The impressive right-back demonstrated how useful he was at both ends of the field, putting in fine defensive performances but also striding forward to great effect to set up four goals, including one in the final.

  • Danylo Sikan: The striker showed how ruthless a finisher he was almost every time he was called upon, hitting the net four times in total.

  • Vladyslav Supriaha: A substitute for the entire event, he took full advantage of his first start by scoring a clinical brace in the final.

Already called up to the senior national side and bought by Real Madrid in 2018, goalkeeper Andriy Lunin displayed all his talent during Ukraine's victorious campaign at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. He was awarded the adidas Golden Glove for his performances at Poland 2019. (Photo by Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

I am so happy. I don’t know what to say. Maybe I still have not fully realised what we achieved. It was the most important game in my life. I already got a call from the Ukraine president, who congratulated us. I have been working with these boys for...

Ukraine head coach Oleksandr Petrakov
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Ukraine trailed in just one match at Poland 2019, and it was the final. They never fell behind in the group stage or the knockout rounds until Lee Kangin's fifth-minute penalty at the Lodz Stadium. Though they faced an unfamiliar challenge, the Ukrainians were undaunted, scoring three unanswered goals to claim the crown.
LODZ, POLAND - JUNE 07: Valerii Bondar of Ukraine celebrates after winning the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup Quarter Final match between Colombia and Ukraine at Lodz Stadium on June 7, 2019 in Lodz, Poland. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

Five-year plan

One of the secrets to the newly crowned champions’ success was their time spent together as a group.

“Valerii Bondar has been with me for five years,” said Petrakov, referring to his captain. “We started off on this adventure with players born in 1999, then 2000 and then 2001. Other coaches understand how meaningful it is to work with these players for five years. Now I have to say goodbye to them.”