When the draw for the qualifying groups for the UEFA 2024 European Championships was made in Frankfurt in October, Ukraine knew it was in for a tough time. They were drawn in the Group C qualifying pool, which included holders Italy, as well as England, North Macedonia and Malta.
Their fears were initially realized, following a two – nil loss to England at Wembley in March, but were more optimistic as they took on North Macedonia in their round 2 game at the National Arena Todor Proeski in Skopje on Friday, June 16.
But it looked like that optimism was also misplaced as North Macedonia took a two – nil lead into half-time. Enis Bardhi converted a penalty on the 31st minute to put North Macedonia ahead, and eight minutes later, Eljif Elmas doubled the score.
Things looked up on the 62nd minute when Iliya Zabarnyi, a defender for the English Premier League club AFC Bournemouth, headed in a corner. Things got even better five minutes later when, after a surging run into the penalty area, by the Chelsea player Mykhailo Mudryk, his former Shakhtar team-mate Yukhym Konoplia levelled matters smashing in from twenty metres.
Things got even worse for North Macedonia when Vinar Musliu was sent off on the 73rd minute, allowing Viktor Tsygankov to ghost into the box, seven minutes from time, to head in another fine cross from Mudryk to snatch the winner.
This was a remarkable comeback in the first competitive match for the new coach, Serhiy Rebrov, as Ukraine collected its first three points in the group to join North Macedonia and Italy on the three-point mark, six behind England who have played one game more.
On Monday, Ukraine will take on Malta at the Štadión Antona Malatinského in Trnava, Slovakia in their first “home” game while North Macedonia entertain England at Old Trafford.
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