The Zbirna will now face England in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals.

Artem Dovbyk’s header in the game’s dying minutes guided Ukraine to its first-ever win in the knockout stages of the Euros. Oleksandr Zinchenko, who scored the game’s first and also wore the captain’s armband for the final few minutes, assisted the winner. Emil Forsberg had cancelled Zinchenko’s stunner with a deflected strike just before half-time.

Forsberg came close in the second half but hit the woodwork twice, as did Ukraine’s Sergiy Sydorchuk. But the match took a wild turn when Marcus Danielson saw a straight red for a rash challenge. Until that moment, Sweden had dominated the game. But Danielson’s red in extra time swung the game in Ukraine’s favour.

The match looked to be heading towards penalties. But Dovbyk headed home to take Ukraine through and complete the roster for the quarter-finals. It was filled with thrillers and upsets with France, Netherlands and Germany, all crashing out. Sweden were the favourites for this clash and they too were sent packing despite a masterful display by Forsberg.

What is most ironic is Ukraine only qualified as the fourth-best third-placed team. They may have headed home from the group stage if not for Sweden’s victory over Poland. It is safe to say that Ukraine returned the favour to the Swedes with an unwanted gift. Here are five reasons why Ukraine can be the surprise package of EURO 2020.

5. Manager and Legend, Andriy Shevchenko

Shevchenko has become the first manager to take Ukraine to the knockout stage of the European Championship

Not just one of Ukraine’s greats, Shevchenko is a proper footballing icon. He has now shown similar prowess in his managerial reign since taking over Ukraine after Euro 2016. Despite failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Shevchenko’s Ukraine have improved leaps and bounds.

Shevchenko has shown great tactical nuance with the variety of formations Ukraine have played in. They have also picked up some impressive results with wins over Spain and Portugal. Ukraine even qualified to League A of the UEFA Nations League.

Most importantly, Shevchenko has created a healthy, winning work environment in the Ukraine camp. Hosting open training sessions and a general family-like atmosphere has been key to this. Oleksandr Zinchenko, in particular, has mentioned how the players in the camp helped him get over his Champions League disappointment with relative ease.

4. Attacking and fearless style of play

Ukraine are one of the most prolific teams in front of the goal in Euro 2020. They failed to score a goal in the 2016 edition of the tournament. But it is safe to say that they have come a long way since. Six goals in four Euro games this time is a fairly decent return. Shevchenko has introduced an exciting brand of football.

Having played in a variety of formations, Ukraine are an unpredictable team. In their 4-3-2-1 formation, with inverted wingers, a creative No. 10 and a mobile striker, Ukraine showed great intent and fight in defeat against a superior Netherlands side.

They have also played in a more pragmatic 3-5-2 formation, like they did against Sweden. A formation that allows them to have numerical superiority against the opponents’ two strikers whilst also providing crucial width. It was a tactical change of sheer brilliance considering how the game progressed.

Shevchenko has transformed this side into an exciting, high-pressing and fearless side. They have been a joy to watch.

3. Oleksandr Zinchenko: The man of the hour

Zinchenko was involved in both of Ukraine’s goals against Sweden

There have been some incredible performances from Ukraine’s players at the Euros but vice-captain Oleksandr Zinchenko deserves a lot of plaudits for his hard work. Always passionate about representing the national side, Zinchenko has shown time and time again how much playing for Ukraine means to him.

The versatile player has played a variety of roles under Shevchenko and excelled. Whether it is as a No. 8 in the midfield or as a left-wingback, he has never failed to impress and it was a joy to see him reap benefits against Sweden in particular.

Zinchenko is one of Ukraine’s top performers. He has played the most passes into the final third and delivered the most crosses for them. He also has impressive Shot Creating Action (SCA) numbers and dribbling numbers. His performance against England in the quarter-finals will be one to keep our eyes on.

2. Never say die attitude

One of the most impressive takeaways from Ukraine’s campaign has been their attitude to never give up and play fearlessly. This trait of theirs was visible from their opening game of the tournament against the Netherlands. Despite being 0-2 down, they did not give up and fought back to level the scoreline. Although they conceded a goal in the end, Ukraine won a lot of praise for their performance.

This is exactly the attitude that we once again saw from Shevchenko’s men against Sweden. The demand of their aggressive style, left players fatigued. They were making some poor decisions, pulling up with cramps and generally, there were many stoppages in play. Extra time was scrappy, but with a man advantage, Ukraine never gave up and pushed on. Despite failing to breach the compact Swedish defence, they kept trying and eventually and got a deserving winner.

After the match, Shevchenko was clear that Ukraine will not be overwhelmed or intimidated by the stature of their quarterfinal opponents England. They will continue to play a fearless brand of football.

1. History in the making

Ukraine players celebrate after beating Sweden 2-1 in the Round of 16

This is a record-breaking Ukraine team that has now qualified for the knockout stages and won a game. In fact, this was the first time since 2006 that Ukraine made it past the group stage of a major international tournament.  

The manner of their victory also set a new record for the second latest winning goal in the history of the Euros. Dovbyk’s header at 120 minutes and 37 seconds overtook Michel Platini’s winner against Portugal in 1984 which came at 118 minutes and 53 seconds. The record is held by Turkey’s Semih Senturk for his goal against Croatia in the 121st minute in 2008.

This brave Ukraine team are breaking records for fun and have proved themselves to be an exciting surprise package at Euro 2020. Ukraine will look to take this motivation into their quarterfinal tie against England in Rome and cause one of the biggest upsets in recent times.

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