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

Andy Scott
22 June 2024, MVT 21:02
Ukraine's forward #09 Roman Yaremchuk (2nd R) celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his teammates during the UEFA Euro 2024 Group E football match between Slovakia and Ukraine at the Duesseldorf Arena in Duesseldorf on June 21, 2024. -- Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP
Andy Scott
22 June 2024, MVT 21:02

Roman Yaremchuk scored the winning goal as Ukraine beat Slovakia 2-1 at Euro 2024 on Friday, sparking tears from their players and earning the congratulations of President Volodymyr Zelensky for keeping alive their chances of reaching the knockout rounds.

Ukraine trailed to an early Ivan Schranz goal in Duesseldorf and were in danger of suffering another defeat after losing 3-0 to Romania in their opening game at the tournament.

But Mykola Shaparenko equalised shortly after half-time and then set up substitute Yaremchuk to score the winner 10 minutes from time to get Ukraine's campaign in Group E up and running.

"The players showed the spirit of Ukraine on the pitch and deserved the win," said coach Serhiy Rebrov, whose team are playing at a first major tournament since Russian forces invaded in 2022.

"Today it was a very important win for Ukraine and for our country. I'm sure they were proud," Rebrov added.

Zelensky greeted the win on X, formerly Twitter, by writing "Way to go guys!" He said it showed a country "that takes a punch and overcomes obstacles...This is exactly what Ukraine's National Football Team is doing today."

Slovakia knew victory would have taken them through to the knockout stage with a game to spare, but the result means they, Ukraine and Romania are all level 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.

"We had the chance to go through but we knew that we were playing a team that needed to win to get back into contention," said Francesco Calzona, the Slovakia coach.

"We're the Cinderella of the group. Already playing here and trying to get out of the group is a great achievement."

- Political backdrop -

As they had before their first game against the Romanians, the Ukraine players emerged onto the sodden pitch in Duesseldorf with Ukrainian flags draped over their shoulders.

With the war in their homeland still raging, it was impossible to avoid the political narrative to this match.

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 -– opposes giving military aid to the Ukrainians in its fight against the Russians.

Last weekend Peter Pellegrini was sworn in as Slovakia's new President after a campaign dominated by divisions over Ukraine.

His predecessor, Zuzana Caputova, was a staunch Ukraine supporter, but Pellegrini is in favour of peace negotiations.

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

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 on 17 minutes.

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.

They drew level on 54 minutes after a fine move which ended with Oleksandr Zinchenko's low ball into the middle from the left being swept home by Shaparenko, of Dynamo Kyiv.

Rebrov's team now had the momentum and they hit the woodwork again on 74 minutes when Mykhailo Mudryk struck the post from a tight angle after being set up by Yaremchuk.

It was Yaremchuk, the striker who has spent the season in Spain at Valencia, who got the winner as he controlled Shaparenko's high ball over the top and poked past Dubravka to spark wild celebrations in the stands and tears of joy from the players at full-time.

© Agence France-Presse

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