Andriy Yarmolenko grabbed a goal and an assist as Ukraine beat North Macedonia 2-1 on Thursday to end a run of six consecutive losses at the European Championship and boost their chances of reaching the knockout stages.
North Macedonia, who also lost 3-1 to Austria in their first game, have not rolled over as easily as some thought, but their hopes of reaching the last 16 in their maiden Euros appearance depend on beating the Netherlands in their final Group C game.
Ukraine are yet to keep a clean sheet at the Euros but they at least broke their losing streak, inspired by their 31-year-old captain and marauding winger Yarmolenko in his and his nation’s third appearance at the tournament.
“During the game we had chances to score more goals. The team played well in attack and it was a pleasure to watch them,” manager Andriy Shevchenko said.
Ukraine dominated possession in the opening stages and it took resolute defending from North Macedonia to keep Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk at bay while Eljif Elmas had a scuffed effort at the other end go wide of the near post.
Yarmolenko put Ukraine ahead from a corner in the 29th minute, popping up at the back post to beat Stole Dimitrievski with a side-footed finish after latching on to Oleksandr Karavaev’s flick.
The skipper helped double the lead five minutes later, receiving the ball wide on the right and finding Roman Yaremchuk, who timed his run to perfection to stay onside before bending a low shot past Dimitrievski at the near post.
TWO MISSED PENALTIES
Goran Pandev raised North Macedonia’s hopes when he got in behind the defence and calmly chipped the ball over the keeper to score, but their joy was short-lived when the linesman’s offside flag went up for the 37-year-old.
Dimitrievski produced a fine save early in the second half to deny Ruslan Malinovskiy when the midfielder curled a free kick destined for the top corner, sticking a palm out and deflecting it onto the crossbar.
Ezgjan Alioski dragged North Macedonia back into the match from a 57th-minute penalty after Karavaev fouled Goran Pandev. Georgiy Bushchan saved the spot kick but the ball rebounded straight back to Alioski who fired home his second attempt.
“They made us defend a lot, they made us nervous. We panicked a little bit at 2-1,” said Yarmolenko, who was withdrawn in the 70th minute.
Ukraine had numerous opportunities to restore their two-goal cushion with Dimitrievski, who made seven saves in the match, standing strong to deny them as his defence floundered.
Ukraine were even awarded a late penalty after Daniel Avramovski was adjudged to have handled the ball following a video assistant referee (VAR) intervention but Dimitrievski made another fine save to keep out Malinovskiy’s spot kick.
Ukraine have three points after two games and play Austria on Monday. The Netherlands and Austria – both also on three points after opening wins – meet for their second game later on Thursday.