After Ukraine's disappointing display at UEFA EURO 2016, the decision was made to change coach and bring in the country's most famous footballer of the last 25 years. In his first major managerial appointment, Andriy Shevchenko has landed the task of leading the *Sborna *to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
Defender Artem Fedetskyi was a mainstay of the national team during the previous qualifying cycle but the 31-year-old SV Darmstadt 98 man, previously at Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, has found himself on the bench under the new regime so far.
"These are Shevchenko's first competitive matches as Ukraine coach," Fedetskyi said in an interview with FIFA.com. "He has to make decisions and I respect that. Of course, now I'm playing in Germany I have to keep up the standard and try to be of service to my country. I also think that playing in the Bundesliga will be a plus not only for me but also the national team.
"I've worked under various coaches," continued Fedetskyi, who has represented his country for six years. "Everybody has their own views on football and different tactical set-ups, but what's always been the case whenever I've been on international duty is that you have to show character here. This team has assembled the best players in Ukraine and they're required to perform at the height of their ability."
The Yellow-Blues have often fallen at the final hurdle when it comes to international tournaments, losing out in World Cup or European Championship play-offs. That all changed last year, however.
"I can't quite remember how many times Ukraine lost in play-offs, was it five or six?" Fedetskyi wondered. "We managed at the sixth attempt. It was a psychological thing in my opinion. It was fantastic to be involved when we finally beat Slovenia for a place at the EURO and feel that joy."
The happy feeling did not last long as the continental tournament in France brought nothing but disappointment for Fedetskyi & Co. After defeats to Germany, Northern Ireland and Poland, Ukraine were the first team to board the plane back home.
"Of course it was a failure," he said. "We didn't show the character that was integral to how we played in the qualifiers. It was unpleasant and shameful before the fans, but the best professional footballers never let their heads drop, even after painful losses. So let's keep our chins up, analyse the mistakes properly and move forward."
Ukraine's last chance to compete at the FIFA World Cup was snatched away from them in dramatic circumstances. Faced with a two-legged tie with France for a spot at Brazil 2014, the team put in a superb performance in Kyiv, winning 2-0, but then ended up losing by three goals in Paris. Thus, their run to the quarter-finals at the 2006 World Cup in Germany remains Ukraine's only appearance at the competition.
"We believed we could win, even if France had a good squad," added Fedetskyi, who successfully shut out the threat of Franck Ribery in Kyiv but was forced to miss the second leg through suspension. "Judging by how the first leg panned out, I was confident we'd realise our dream of going to the World Cup in Brazil. My friends, acquaintances and team-mates still remember that match today. Of course, Ribery is a top-class player but credit for dealing with him goes to the whole team, not just me. I think that was the best performance both of my career and everyone's in the Ukrainian national side.
"Even in Kyiv, I said we had to get an away goal to be in with a chance of making it to Brazil. Unfortunately, our dreams didn't come true. There were no emotions after the contest at the Stade de France, just a feeling of emptiness. The most important thing at times like these is not to give up and to carry on going."
*All eyes on the World Cup
*Fedetskyi previously spent his entire career in the Ukrainian Premier League and is remembered in particular for his role in Dnipro's run to the UEFA Europa League final. Recently, however, he has opted for a change of environment, signing for Darmstadt in the Bundesliga before the start of this season.
"I'm 31-years-old, so I've got a lot of experience," he explained. "You spend until 30 storing it up and then you have to be more consistent in your end product, performing at a good standard every time. I think I've hit the point when a footballer has to play at his best, but I will still try to make further progress."
Shevchenko's men are faced with an intriguing route to Russia 2018, after being drawn in a group with Croatia, Iceland, Turkey, Finland and Kosovo.
"It's a very tough group," Fedetskyi declared. "I think more or less all the teams are of a similar standard. We have one objective in front of us: to qualify for the World Cup. In order to achieve that, we'll have to show unbelievable attitude and self-sacrifice."
Ukraine kicked off their campaign with a 1-1 draw at home to Iceland and a 2-2 draw away to Turkey but were close to victory on both occasions. Next up is an encounter in which they start as clear favourites – against newcomers Kosovo.
"We should've beaten Iceland but we conceded first," explained Fedetskyi. "Yevhen Konoplyanka missed a penalty as well, although that can happen. He was really upset about it, but we all just supported him. There have been a lot of draws in the group so far, so there's everything still to play for.
"Kosovo are the dark horse, we don't know what to expect from this team," the experienced right-back concluded. "It hurts that we're not playing our home game against them in Ukraine but in Poland. Nevertheless, I'm sure our fans will be there in the stands. We'll aim to win to give them something to cheer about."