Ukraine have a poor record at the finals of the European Championship, but Kevin Hatchard's backing them to turn things around against North Macedonia in Bucharest...
"North Macedonia gave up lots of chances against a fairly limited and out-of-form Austria, so they will struggle to contain a Ukraine side that gave the Dutch a big scare in Amsterdam."
Ukraine v North Macedonia
Thursday 17 June, 14:00
Live on ITV1
Fragile Ukraine are playing catch-up
Against the Netherlands in Amsterdam, we saw the good and the bad sides of Ukraine's play. They showed great determination and no little skill to fight back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 (Andriy Yarmolenko's goal was a classic curler into the top corner), but careless defending and a shaky performance from goalkeeper Heorhiy Bushchan ensured that Andriy Shevchenko's team was left empty-handed after a 3-2 defeat.
Bushchan made some fine saves on the night, but he palmed the ball into the path of Gini Wijnaldum for the Dutch opener, and then lost possession cheaply in the build-up to the winner. Realistically, the alternative to Bushchan is the experienced but error-prone Andriy Pyatov, so Shevchenko has a tough choice to make.
Ukraine must also find a way to get attacking midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi more heavily involved, although they will expect to have more possession against North Macedonia than they did against the Dutch. The Atalanta star is usually a goalscoring threat, but he didn't have a single goal attempt against the Dutch. There was a more encouraging performance from Gent striker Roman Yaremchuk, who had some lovely touches in and around the penalty area, and crashed in a header to level at 2-2.
Talented midfielder Viktor Tsyhankov is back fit after injury, and is believed to be in contention for a start here. He could replace Oleksandr Zubkov in the front three, after Zubkov limped out of the Netherlands game in the opening minutes.
Minnows can focus on Pandev positive
Although North Macedonia ultimately lost their first ever match at the finals of a major tournament, there was an unforgettable moment. Thirty-seven-year-old Goran Pandev, who had scored the goal that got his country to Euro 2020 in the first place, displayed skill and composure to score a famous equaliser against Austria.
Sadly for Igor Angelovski's men, they went on to lose 3-1, but Pandev has once again added to his legend. His first goal at international level was in 2002 against Malta. To put that into context, he'll be facing a defender (Illya Zabarnyi) who hadn't even been born when that goal went in.
Although the aim is to defend diligently in a 5-3-2 formation (although there has been some talk of a switch to a back four), North Macedonia do try to play, and they have now scored in their last six internationals. If you go back further, they have found the net in 27 of their last 31 games. Enis Bardhi produced some nice touches against Austria, Ezgjan Alioski was a threat down the left, but Angelovski needs to find a way of getting Napoli's Eljif Elmas into more dangerous positions.
Angelovski isn't expected to make wholesale changes, and there are no fresh injury concerns.
Ukraine can end losing run
Our friends at Opta tell us that Ukraine have now lost their last six matches at the finals of the European Championship, the joint-worst run in the competition's history. However, I believe that run will come to an end in the Romanian capital Bucharest on Thursday. North Macedonia lost the initiative against a fairly ordinary Austrian side, and had it not been for a fine display from goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski, the margin of defeat could have been greater.
Ukraine aren't in great form, but in the last year they have beaten Spain and drawn with France, so they have shown they can rise to the big occasion. Both teams have to go for the win, so I think this will be lively, so I'll use the Sportsbook to back Ukraine to win and Over 1.5 Goals at 2.01/1.
If you want to be a little bolder, you could use the Bet Builder (see offer below) to back Ukraine to win and both teams to score at 3.711/4.
Ukraine may take a while to warm up
If you are looking for an In-Play angle, you could wait for Ukraine's price in the Match Odds market to get above evens before taking the plunge and backing them.
North Macedonia haven't trailed at half time in any of their last five games (including their 2-1 win in Germany in the World Cup qualifiers), and if you go back further, they have only had a half-time deficit in one of their last 15 games.
Alternatively, you could back Draw/Ukraine in the HT/FT market at 10/3. It's worth remembering that backing Draw/Austria paid out at exactly the same price.
Ruslan's rockets could still make an impact
Although he was quiet against the Dutch, I still believe that Ruslan Malinovskyi can make his mark on this tournament. He scored in six of his last nine club games for Atalanta, and with Ukraine seeing more of the ball, he can get into good scoring positions against a North Macedonian defence that looks shaky at this level. Malinovskyi is a genuine threat from long range, and can ghost into the box with well-timed runs as well.
I'll back Malinovskyi in the To Score market at 3.613/5 on the Sportsbook.
Pandev is priced at 5.04/1 to find the net, which looks a bit too big for a player of his quality.
Kevin Hatchard Euro 2020 P/L
Points Staked: 4
Points Returned: 7.56
P/L: +3.56 points
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