Ukraine vs North Macedonia preview: Pointless duo desperate for victory
Group C: Ukraine vs North Macedonia, kick-off 2pm (UK time, ITV)
Both beaten on matchday one, Ukraine and North Macedonia meet in Bucharest looking to get their Euros campaigns up-and-running.
Ukraine came from two down against the Netherlands only to lose 3-2 late on, while first-time qualifiers North Macedonia conceded two late goals against Austria in their 3-1 defeat.
Both sides showed they are more than whipping boys and will view this fixture as an opportunity to put themselves firmly in contention for the knockout stages.
Story so far
North Macedonia kicked off Group C against Austria at Bucharest’s National Arena and made life hard for their opponents.
Stefan Lainer’s 18th-minute opener was cancelled out when veteran striker Goran Pandev took advantage of indecision in the Austria backline.
However, substitutes Michael Gregoritsch and Marko Arnautovic struck in the final 12 minutes to take the game away from the minnows.
Later in the day, the Netherlands were made to work hard for three points against Ukraine.
Things were going smoothly when Gini Wijnaldum and Wout Weghorst handed Frank de Boer’s men a 2-0 lead in Amsterdam.
But Andriy Yarmolenko, with a trademark curling effort after cutting inside, and Roman Yaremchuk dragged Andriy Shevchenko’s men level before Denzel Dumfries’ 85th-minute header settled the game of the tournament so far.
Ruslan Malinovskyi is the focal point of Ukraine’s attack.
The Atalanta attacking midfielder, 28, enjoyed a phenomenal campaign in Serie A last season, supplying 12 assists.
His average of 0.57 assists per 90 minutes was the best of any player in Italy’s top flight, while 6.04 shot-creating actions put him third in the standings.
So it should come as little surprise it was he who crossed for Yaremchuk to head home Ukraine’s short-lived equaliser.
Malinovskyi also provided three key passes — defined as passes leading to an effort on goal — during an end-to-end encounter.
Stopping him will be key to North Macedonia’s chances of pulling off a shock.
Pandev, 37, became his country's first goalscorer at a major international tournament in his side’s 3-1 loss to Austria, marking his 120th cap in style.
The Genoa striker, who is best known for his part in Inter Milan’s treble-winning season of 2010, is North Macedonia’s all-time leading scorer with 38 goals.
He’s also a five-time winner of the Macedonian Footballer of the Year award.
Domestically, Pandev recorded a shot accuracy of 55% for Genoa last season, putting him in Serie A’s top 15 as he struck seven times in 29 appearances.
Since signing for the Genoese side in 2015, Pandev has netted 32 times in 165 appearances and remains an integral part of Davide Ballardini’s side despite his age.
North Macedonia funnelled almost all of their play down the right-hand side against Austria — a whopping 60% in fact.
If they are to get something against Ukraine, they will have to be less predictable and utilising Leeds left-back Ezgjan Alioski will help.
Alioski was at fault for Austria’s opener on matchday one but is very capable going forward, chipping in with two goals and three assists in the Premier League last term.
Igor Angelovski’s men operate a wing-back system which is perfect for getting in behind a Ukrainian team that deploys a four-man defence.
Alioski, along with Dinamo Zagreb’s Stefan Ristovski on the opposing side, must be granted the freedom to make forward runs if the minnows are to record their first win at a major tournament.
Shevchenko has regularly tinkered with Ukraine’s formation in the last year, switching between a 3-4-2-1, 4-1-4-1 and 4-3-3, which goes some way to explaining a run of just four wins in 15 since September.
Sticking with the 4-3-3 shape used in defeat to the Netherlands offers Ukraine the chance to get on the front foot against the weakest side in the group.
Wide forwards Yarmolenko and Marlos, who replaced Oleksandr Zubkov early on, will have plenty of opportunities to get at North Macedonia’s full-backs.
Yarmolenko had three attempts against the Dutch, hitting the target twice, and will relish the opportunity to add to that tally in Bucharest.
This might not be the glamour tie of Group B but everything points towards an open and end-to-end encounter between two sides with everything to play for.