BUCHAREST: Andriy Yarmolenko stole the spotlight to keep alive Ukraine’s hopes of qualifying for the round of 16 at Euro 2020 with a 2-1 victory over North Macedonia in the Romanian capital.
Ukraine, having fought back from two goals down before ultimately losing 3-2 to the Netherlands on Sunday, ended a run of six successive European Championship defeats to remain in contention in Group C.
Captain Yarmolenko capitalised on poor defending from a corner after 28 minutes, before the West Ham forward’s pass set up Roman Yaremchuk for a second goal five minutes later.
Leeds Ezgjan Alioski followed up his own saved penalty to give an improved North Macedonia a second-half lifeline, but they could not find an equaliser despite goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski saving Ruslan Malinovskiy’s penalty in the closing stages.
Ukraine had been one defeat away from recording the longest losing streak in the competition’s history and, having been the first side to be eliminated at Euro 2016, they made their early dominance count to avoid a similar fate in a lively contest.
Dimitrievski turned away a fierce shot from Malinovskiy and Stefan Ristovski produce a fine sliding challenge to stop Yaremchuk before Yarmolenko’s deserved breakthrough.
Napoli forward Eljif Elmas, 21, hit the side-netting from close range with a rare first-half chance for the Macedonians, while veteran striker Goran Pandev had a well-taken goal ruled out for offside before half-time.
Igor Angelovski’s side, the lowest-ranked at Euro 2020, rallied after the restart and Arijan Ademi forced a fine save from Georgiy Bushchan before Oleksandr Karavaev conceded Alioski’s spot-kick for fouling Pandev.
After Viktor Tsygankov had spurned a glorious chance, Ukraine were handed another opportunity to seal victory when Daniel Avramovski was penalised for handball in the box – but Dimitrievski’s fine save kept the game in the balance.
Yarmolenko, Star of the Match: “I’m very pleased to receive this award but more than that I’m pleased with the three points we’ve earned. I wouldn’t focus only on those who score goals or supply assists. Look at our defence, how great their performance was today. I want to share this award with the whole team.”
Igor Angelovski, North Macedonia coach: “We played a match with two different halves. In the second half we showed why we are at the European Championship, that this team has quality and deserves to be here. And when your fans send you off with loud applause, it shows that you played a really good match, but we are sorry that it didn’t come with a positive result at the end.”
Ukraine: Bushchan – Karavaev, Zabarnyi, Matviyenko, Mykolenko – Shaparenko (Sydorchuk 78), Stepanenko, Zinchenko – Yarmolenko (Tsygankov 70), Yaremchuk (Besedin 70), Malinovskyi (Sobol 90+2).
North Macedonia: Dimitrievski – S Ristovski, D Velkovski (Tričkovski 85), Musliu – Nikolov (Trajkovski 46), Ademi (Ristevski 85), Spirovski (Churlinov 46), Alioski – Bardi (Avramovski 77) – Pandev, Elmas,
Referee: Rapallini (Arg)