Ukraine 2-1 North Macedonia: Yarmolenko inspires crucial Group C win
Ukraine boosted their chances of reaching the Euro 2020 knockout phase with a 2-1 victory over North Macedonia on Thursday.
Andriy Yarmolenko scored the opener and set up Roman Yaremchuk to make it 2-0 in a dominant first-half display from Andriy Shevchenko's side in Bucharest.
North Macedonia, beaten by Austria on matchday one, improved after the break and pulled a goal back through Ezgjan Alioski after the Leeds United man saw his penalty saved.
Ruslan Malinovskiy also erred from the spot, meaning as many have been missed at this tournament (four) as in the whole of Euro 2016, but it did not cost Ukraine an important three points in Group C.
Ukraine carried a threat from the off, Stole Dimitrievski saving from Malinovskiy and Yarmolenko, while Stefan Ristovski made a brilliant block on Yaremchuk.
The breakthrough came just before the half-hour mark, Yarmolenko finishing at the far post after Oleksandr Karavaev's inspired flick-on from Malinovskiy's corner.
It was 2-0 five minutes later, Yaremchuk slotting a cool finish past Dimitrievski after a clever first-time pass from Yarmolenko.
Goran Pandev produced a clever chipped finish but the goal was disallowed for offside, as North Macedonia ended the half without a shot on target.
However, they did halve the deficit 11 minutes after the restart, Alioski expertly finishing on the rebound after his penalty had been well saved by Georgi Bushchan.
Viktor Tsygankov studded a great chance wide barely five minutes after coming off the Ukraine bench, and Malinovskiy saw his spot-kick parried by Dimitrievski after a VAR review saw Daniel Avramovski penalised for handball.
North Macedonia applied some late pressure to no avail, with their tournament now looking likely to come to an end after the group stage is concluded.
What does it mean? Ukraine back in contention for knockouts
Ukraine's victory means they are right back in the mix to finish in Group C's top two. If the Netherlands defeat Austria, Shevchenko's men will be guaranteed to finish at least second with a win on matchday three.
North Macedonia, meanwhile, could soon be facing elimination. Should the later game finish in anything other than an Austria win, the European Championship newcomers will be unable to advance to the knockout rounds.
Yarmolenko has now scored in three consecutive Ukraine matches for the first time since October 2016, while their last player to score in consecutive games at a major finals was Shevchenko himself at the 2006 World Cup.
The West Ham forward provided the clinical touches in attack in the first half and showed off with a few tricks, highlighting the calibre of player the Hammers would have if he could now sustain his fitness.
Too little, too late from Angelovski's men
Igor Angelovski made two changes at half-time and it was one of those replacements, Aleksandar Trajkovski, whose stunning attempt led to the penalty after it was tipped onto the crossbar.
Their possessions swung from 36.6 per cent in the first half to 62.5 in the second, the shot count more than doubled to 10 in total, but they were left with too much to do by the time they adopted a bolder approach.
Key Opta Facts
- Ukraine have ended a six-game losing streak at the European Championship, with this just their second ever victory in the competition and first since a 2-1 win against Sweden in 2012, in what was their first game at the tournament.
- North Macedonia have become the eighth nation to lose each of their first two ever European Championship matches, and are the first side to do so since Albania in 2016.
- This was the first European Championship match to see both sides win a penalty since England versus France in 2004 and the first game in the competition since 1980 (when we have this data available) to see both sides miss a penalty (excluding shootouts).
- Ezgjan Alioski has scored two goals in his past three games in all competitions for North Macedonia, as many as in his previous 17.
- At 37 years and 325 days old, North Macedonia captain Goran Pandev became the oldest player to win a penalty in a European Championship game since 1980 (when we have such data available).
Ukraine conclude their group stage against Austria in Bucharest, with North Macedonia facing the Netherlands in Amsterdam. Both games are on June 21.