LVIV: Ukraine’s hopes of finally ending their playoff jinx and qualifying for Euro 2016 were raised by a 2-0 first-leg victory over Slovenia in Lviv.
The Ukrainians have failed to progress for a major international tournament via the play-offs on five occasions, with Slovenia among the countries who have dashed their dream in two-legged contests in a tie to qualify for Euro 2000.
However, Mykhaylo Fomenko’s men are well placed to be in France next summer after Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Seleznyov scored in either half.
The cushion they will take to Slovenia on Tuesday could have been even greater, though, yet Denys Garmash and Seleznyov were unable to add a third goal against the lacklustre visitors.
Yarmolenko was his nation’s top scorer in qualifying and it was the Dynamo Kiev winger who struck first 22 minutes in.
Yevhen Konoplyanka’s corner was only half-cleared and the Sevilla midfielder crossed the ball back into the box, where Samir Handanovic’s punch fell to Yarmolenko at the back post.
Up until that point the visitors had showed little attacking threat, and a half-volley from Josip Ilicic that sailed over the top in the 28th minute was their first attempt on goal.
They had a great chance to pull level before the half-hour mark, though, when Valter Birsa fed an unmarked Milivoje Novakovic inside the area but his first touch was appalling and the ball span through to goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov.
Handanovic made a one-handed save from Serhiy Rybalka’s long-range try and pushed Garmash’s header from another Konoplyanka header over the top as Ukraine ended the first period on top.
The home side doubled their lead nine minutes after the break.
Again Yarmolenko was involved, finding an overlapping Artem Fedetskiy with a pass inside the full-back, and his ball across the six-yard box found Seleznyov sliding in to score from virtually on the line.