Ukraine will be hoping to get back to winning ways as they take on first-time participants North Macedonia on Thursday at the National Arena in Bucharest.

Following a heartbreaking defeat to Netherlands in the opening fixture, Ukraine will be keen on securing their first points of the UEFA Euro 2020 when they take on North Macedonia.

Andriy Shevchenko’s men were involved in arguably the most entertaining game on Matchday 1 when they came back from a 2-0 deficit with a fantastic second-half performance. Unfortunately, a late goal from Denzel Dumfries sealed all three points for the Oranje.

North Macedonia, too, had to settle for a soul-crushing defeat in their first game against Austria. After Goran Pandev’s equaliser in the first half, the tournament newbies produced a valiant defensive effort to keep their opposition attack at bay, frustrating them at every opportunity.

However, they struggled to defend David Alaba’s sumptuous cross for Michael Gregoritsch, who scored the winner in the 78th minute before Marko Arnautovic sealed all three points after an 89th minute strike.

The result perhaps flattered the Austrians, but their three points in the opening fixture mean both North Macedonia and Ukraine must seal a victory on Matchday 2 if they are to have any hopes of directly qualifying. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of this crucial match-up in Bucharest this midweek.

Tactics & Team News

Ukraine

Ukraine's forward Zinchenko Oleksandr celebrates after scoring during the international friendly football match between Romania and Ukraine at "Grande Torino Stadium" in Turin, on May 29, 2016. / AFP / MARCO BERTORELLO (Photo credit should read MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

Oleksandr Zinchenko needs to deliver in midfield. (Photo credit should read Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images)

In a game where Ukraine are most likely to dominate possession, it will be interesting to see whether Andriy Shevchenko opts to make any change to the team that faced Netherlands in the opening fixture.

Ukraine typically play with a 4-3-3 setup, with Sergiy Sydorchuk operating in the deepest midfield role, screening the backline while allowing the advanced midfielders in Ruslan Malinovskiy and Oleksandr Zinchenko to push forward.

The two midfielders generally tend to camp themselves in the final third, creating a numerical superiority that allows Ukraine to rotate possession more efficiently even in tight spaces.

Inverted wingers like Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleksandr Zubkov love to cut inside as well, while striker Roman Yaremchuk is a technically astute centre forward that can rotate possession and use combination play to get behind the opposition defence.

Thus, we can expect Ukraine to play with a lot of technicality in the final third, with midfielders hoping to find Yaremchuk behind the defence while the wingers attack the channels.

Another key element in Ukraine’s offensive play is the presence of two attacking full-backs in Vitaliy Mykolenko and Oleksandr Karavaev. However, the latter is expected to operate in a more conservative, hoping to offer aid to the central defenders Ilya Zabarnyi and Mykola Matvienko if required.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Bushchan; Karavaev, Zabarnyi, Matvienko, Mykolenko; Sydorchuk, Malinovskyi, Zinchenko; Yarmolenko, Yaremchuk, Zubkov

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North Macedonia

Given Ukraine’s gameplay, it will be imperative for North Macedonian coach Igor Angelovski to prevent their opponents from playing from the middle. His side looked pretty incompetent in the defensive midfield area against Austria, so it won’t be surprising to see him reinforce that position this time around.

At the same time, however, Enis Bardhi and Eljif Elmas both played an excellent game, despite being attack-minded midfielders. They are expected to retain their places in the side once again, with Arijan Ademi operating in the deepest role of the midfield three in North Macedonia’s 5-3-2.

The Lions’ main objective will be to force Ukraine out wide, as they do not have a definite target. Their wingers are also very ineffective when prevented any space to cut inside.

It makes the wing-backs Boban Nikolov and Ezgjan Alioski very crucial to North Macedonia’s tactical setup, though the midfield trifecta of Bardhi, Ademi and Elmas will be equally key in the second line of press.

In order to force the opposition wide, North Macedonia also need to press high and aggressively. That is where the evergreen Goran Pandev and the hard-working Aleksandar Trajkovski comes into the fray as leaders of the North Macedonian attack.

They will hope to pressurise the ball-carrying centre-backs, with additional assistance from Bardhi and Elmas, the two attacking midfielders in the first line of press.

Defensively, Angelovski is unlikely to make any changes from the back three consisting of Stefan Ristovski, Visar Musliu and Darko Velkovski as they hope to keep Ukraine at bay this midweek.

Probable Lineup (5-3-2): Dimitrievski; Nikolov, Ristovski, Musliu, Velkovski, Alioski; Bardhi, Ademi, Elmas; Pandev, Trajkovski

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Form Guide

Ukraine: LWWDD

North Macedonia: LWDWW

Key Stats

  • Ukraine and North Macedonia have met each other only four times, with the Ukrainians securing two wins and succumbing to one defeat.
  • Goran Pandev’s equaliser against Austria was North Macedonia’s first goal in major international tournaments. At the age of just 37, it also means he is the nation’s youngest goalscorer in such competitions.
  • After a run of six losses in eight games in 2020, Ukraine haven’t lost even one of their last seven games since the turn of the year, although four games have ended in 1-1 draws.

Players in Focus

Ruslan Malinovskiy (Ukraine)

Among all the creative players in the Ukrainian camp, Ruslan Malinovskiy is the one who is most capable of turning the complexion of the game using his individual quality on the pitch. The Atalanta attacker did not have the best of games in the opening fixture against Netherlands, but will be keen on getting back to full flow.

Against North Macedonia, he will be key in possession when it comes to using nice combination play with Zinchenko to ease Ukraine’s transition. Malinovskiy is also a threat in front of goal, making them the biggest threat for the opposition this midweek.

Eljif Elmas (North Macedonia)

As for North Macedonia, Eljif Elmas made a solid impression with his offensive work rate. He is indeed a creative lynchpin in Igor Angelovski’s team – one who is capable of turning the tide of the game with his ability not only to find players behind the backline but also his eagerness in possession.

Elmas, though, needs to offer better defensive resistance in midfield in this game against Ukraine. In addition, he could be key in counter-attacks, especially when it comes to releasing runners like Aleksandar Trajkovski and Ezgjan Alioski behind the Ukrainian backline. He is indeed the one North Macedonian player worth keeping an eye on.

Prediction

Ukraine 1-1 North Macedonia

Ukraine showed a lot of promise in their first game against Netherlands. However, lack of productivity has been a problem for Shevchenko’s men, and up against the low block of North Macedonia, it won’t be surprising to see them fail to find the back of the net on multiple occasions.

Defensively, the young backline looked rather unconvincing under pressure in the first game. It doesn’t bode well up against a team that likes to press aggressively higher up the pitch and draw mistakes from the opposition. We are thus expecting Ukraine to play out a 1-1 draw with North Macedonia this midweek.

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