Yaremchuk the hero as Ukraine come back to beat Slovakia at Euro 2024

By AFP
June 22, 2024
Ukraine players seen celebrating after beating Slovenia 2-1 in Euro 2024 on June 21, 2024. — AFP

DUESSELDORF, Germany: Roman Yaremchuk emerged from the bench to score the winning goal as Ukraine produced a stirring fightback to beat Slovakia 2-1 and kickstart their Euro 2024 campaign on Friday.

Advertisement

Slovakia knew victory in Duesseldorf would take them through to the knockout stage with a game to spare and they went ahead on 17 minutes thanks to Ivan Schranz, who netted the winner in the shock victory over Belgium in their opening game. Ukraine came into this match reeling after losing 3-0 to Romania last time out but they dug deep here and equalised through Mykola Shaparenko nine minutes after half-time.

Shaparenko, of Dynamo Kyiv, then turned provider for Yaremchuk to score the decisive goal as Ukraine joined Slovakia and Romania on three points in a wide-open Group E. Romania play Belgium, who are bottom without a point, on Saturday in Frankfurt before the final round of matches next Wednesday.

Like they had before their first game against the Romanians, the Ukraine players emerged onto the sodden pitch in rainy Duesseldorf with Ukrainian flags draped over their shoulders. They are present at the tournament amid the ongoing war in their homeland and it was impossible to avoid the political narrative to this match in particular.

Slovakia shares a border with Ukraine but the country´s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico -- who survived being shot in an assassination attempt last month -- is an opponent of military aid to the Ukrainians in its fight against the Russian invasion.

Last weekend Peter Pellegrini was sworn in as Slovakia´s new President after a campaign dominated by divisions over the war in Ukraine. His predecessor, Zuzana Caputova, was a staunch Ukraine supporter, but Pellegrini is an ally of Fico and in favour of peace negotiations.

There was more support in the stands for Ukraine than their opponents at the Merkur Spiel-Arena, as their coach Serhiy Rebrov made four changes following the heavy loss to Romania in Munich.

Captain Taras Stepanenko and Girona winger Viktor Tsygankov were among the players to drop out, while Benfica´s Anatoliy Trubin started in goal in place of Andriy Lunin, whose errors proved costly in the opening match.

Slovakia, though, played with confidence after their fine result against Belgium, and Trubin made one stop from Lukas Haraslin before producing a fine reaction save to deny Schranz.

They were soon rewarded for their early pressure with the opening goal. Trubin saved a David Hancko free-kick, then from the throw-in which followed Haraslin lobbed the ball from the byline to the back post for Schranz, of Slavia Prague, to head in. However, Ukraine improved and were almost level just after the half-hour mark when a low strike by Oleksandr Tymchyk was tipped onto the far post by the fingertips of Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.

Advertisement