Kick-Off: Wednesday, November 18, 19:00 CET.
Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine.
Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine.
Not conceding might have been the objective for Ukraine as newspapers on the home-front celebrated the 0-0 stalemate in the Greek capital. But if Ukraine are to dream of competing at the World Cup next summer, they’ll need to score a victory on Wednesday.
Reliving the magic of 2006 seems to be the key for the Ukrainians, with star players Andriy Shevchenko and Anatoliy Tymoschuk echoing sentiments that a vintage performance on Wednesday should be enough to clinch qualification. However, Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko’s side might not have to travel that far back in time to find their best form.
Their second-place finish behind England in the preliminary round has much to do with an undefeated stretch in their last six fixtures to edge Croatia for the play-off spot in Group 6. Two consecutive clean-sheets at home in should also provide inspiration for another sturdy performance in defence.
On the contrary, with 20 goals in group-play, the Ukrainians ranked near the top as one of the better attacking units in the European qualifiers. After a sluggish performance from the Ukrainian offence on Saturday, the Yellow-Blues front-line will have to create space for the Dynamo Kyiv duo Shevchenko and Artem Milevskiy after the pair were kept isolated over the weekend.
All Or Nothing
While Ukraine celebrated a draw on Saturday, Greece were left to rue a few missed chances as Otto Rehhagel’s men failed to establish an advantage in the aggregate score-line ahead of the rematch in Ukraine.
At least one goal is required on Wednesday night, but a marker at the Donbass Arena would come with greater implications as Greece look to qualify for their first World Cup since their maiden appearance at the 1994 Finals in the United States.
Missing out on three consecutive trips to international football’s finest showpiece has been a rather curious statistic for a country managing a continental crown in 2004. With Ukraine to partly-thank for their part in eliminating Greece ahead of the 2006 tournament in Germany, the 2004 European Champions will be keen to exact revenge on their opponents.
Although emphasis will slightly teeter towards notching what is being called a decisive goal by the Greek press, defence will remain a key factor for Greek hopes. A side known for its astute defending, another gritty performance from the Greek back-line will be required as the visitors look to stymie a potent Ukrainian attack.
November 14 v Greece (A) DREW 0-0 (World Cup Qualifying Play-Off)
October 14 v Andorra (A) WON 6-0 (World Cup Qualifying)
October 10 v England (H) WON 1-0 (World Cup Qualifying)
September 9 v Belarus (A) DREW 0-0 (World Cup Qualifying)
September 5 Andorra (H) WON 5-0 (World Cup Qualifying)
November 14 v Ukraine (H) DREW 0-0 (World Cup Qualifying Play-Off)
October 14 v Luxembourg (H) WON 2-1 (World Cup Qualifying)
October 10 v Latvia (H) WON 5-2 (World Cup Qualifying)
September 9 v Moldova (A) DREW 1-1 (World Cup Qualifying)
September 5 v Switzerland (A) LOST 2-0 (World Cup Qualifying)
Midfielder Taras Mykhalyk is doubtful after injuring his right knee over the weekend, while defender Grigoriy Yarmash has left the team after catching a cold and is out with fever. Meanwhile, Andriy Voronin and Serhiy Nazarenko are also out of contention after being overlooked by Mykhaylychenko – the latter being unavailable through injury.
Giorgos Karagounis and Sotirios Kyrgiakos completed individual training sessions on Monday, as did Avraam Papadopoulos but the Olympiacos defender still faces a race to fitness. Vasilis Torosidis and goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias have been ruled out and are joined on the sidelines by Giourkas Seitaridis. Giorgos Galitsios and Giorgos Tzavellas were called up to the team over the weekend as Traianos Dellas declined an invitation. Youngster Vasilis Koutsianikoulis has left to join the U-21 side, but Konstantinos Mitroglou and Sotiris Ninis remain with the senior squad.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine)
With the Ukrainian attack missing key members such as Nazarenko and Voronin, there is added pressure on Andriy Shevchenko to perform at his finest on Wednesday night. A prolific scoring record for Ukraine should be an indication that the Dynamo Kyiv striker is a reliable member of the squad, and as captain of his country he will look not to disappoint.
Giorgos Karagounis (Greece)
Thoefanis Gekas might be the team’s leading scorer with ten goals in qualifying, but it will take an influential performance from Giorgos Karagounis to spur the Greeks to victory. The Panathinaikos midfielder was left frustrated on Saturday night as the Greek offence struggled to find a way past the Ukrainian defence. Wearing the captain’s armband, look for Karagounis to provide the added spark as Greece aim for a ticket to South Africa.
Just like the first leg, the replay should be another close-fought encounter. The Greeks will be keen on grabbing a goal and taking advantage of the away-goal rule, while Ukraine will be banking on the home crowd to energize their bid to reach South Africa. Ultimately, we’re in store for another draw but this time a level score-line will indicate a good night for the visitors.
Ukraine 1-1 Greece
Peter Katsiris, Goal.com