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Ukraine’s Goalkeeping Conundrum

Oleksandr Rybka
Oleksandr Rybka tested positive for a banned diuretic which he said he used to lose weight.

On Tuesday, Oleh Blokhin named the provisional squad he wants to take to Euro 2012. The squad consists of 26 players and 8 more on a reserve list. Blokhin is taking the 26 players to a training camp in Austria, where they will play two friendlies against Estonia and Austria, before playing Turkey in Ingolstadt, Germany, on 5th June.

The big talking point ahead of the selection was of the goalkeeping crises that has befallen Ukraine. 6 months ago, the goalkeeping position was not one that Blokhin would have to give much thought. Olexandr Rybka had established himself as Shakhtar Donetsks’ number one and veterans Olexandr Shovkovskyi and Andriy Dykan were performing confidently for their club sides. However, one by one, these keepers have become unavailable for Ukraine.

Only a few weeks after making his national team debut for Ukraine against Germany, it was revealed that Olexandr Rybka had failed a drugs test. He tested positive for a banned diuretic which he said he used to lose weight. As a result of this the football authorities acted and imposed the maximum 2 year ban on Rybka, ruling him out of football until 2014.

This was not the most significant lose for Blokhin. Rybka had gained form and was starting to look impressive for Shakhtar but on the international stage he was still inexperienced and it was the likes of Shovkovskyi and Dykan who would be favourites for the number one jersey. The competition was seemingly over however, when Spartak Moscows Dykan fractured a cheek bone in a clash with Alexandr Kerzhakov. Needing an operation, Dykan was a major doubt for the Euro’s before being officially ruled out. This seemingly led to the appointment of veteran and hero of the 2006 World Cup: Olexandr Shovkovskyi. In Germany, Shovkovskyi became the first ‘keeper in World Cup history to keep a clean sheet in a penalty shoot-out.

Yet a curse seems to be on the Ukraine number one position as Shovkovskyi himself suffered a shoulder injury making a fine save for Dynamo Kyiv against Volyn. Requiring an operation and three months rehabilitation, Shovkovksyi is out of Euro 2012.

So with none of the original first three choice goalkeepers, Blokhin has named four goalkeepers in his provisional squad and a back up. These are Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Olexandr Goryainov (Metalist Kharkiv) and the uncapped duo Maxym Koval (Dynamo Kyiv) and Olexandr Bandura (Metalurg Donetsk) with Bohdan Shust (Shakhtar) the backup goalkeeper.

Andriy Pyatov
Andriy Pyatov vs. Carlos Puyol

Andriy Pyatov is the most likely candidate to be number one. He already has 24 international caps to his name, and featured in most of the games after the World Cup for Ukraine. Pyatov is also a UEFA Cup winner so has experience of pressure games and did indeed go to the 2006 World Cup albeit as back up to Shovkovskyi. He suffered a loss of form and confidence however, and was dropped by Shakhtar and lost his place for Ukraine. After Rybka’s ban however, Pyatov was forced back into Lucescu’s plans. He has been reliable on his return and his confidence will return as Shakhtar have won the Ukrainian Cup and overturned a 3 point deficit to overtake Dynamo Kyiv on their way to gaining the Ukrainian Premier League Crown.

Veteran Olexandr Goryainov has proven to be a consistent performer for his club Metalist Kharkiv over the years and he holds the record for the longest period without conceding a goal in the Ukrainian Premier League (943 minutes). Despite this he has only managed one international appearance in his career and this was during Myron Markevychs’ management of Ukraine, Goryainovs club coach at Metalist. Goryainov has also only featured intermitantly for Metalist, mainly playing second fiddle to Sasha Disljenkovic. At 37, Goryainovs best days are most likely behind him but his experience and influence could be important with the loss of Shovkovskyi.

Maxym Koval is most likely one to watch for the future. After impressing in a few appearances for Metalurg Zaporizhya, Dynamo were quick to sign up the keeper as a 17 year and had no qualms throwing him in the deep end when he made his debut in the Champions League qualifiers against FC Ajax. Yet when Shovkovskyi returned to fitness, Koval had to make do with appearances in the youth and reserve set ups only featuring occasionally in the first team. Despite having great potential, surely it is too much too soon for Koval.
The final selection Olexandr Bandura has seemingly jumped at the chance presented to him by the goalkeeping crises. A goalkeeper who had never really asserted himself in the Ukrainian Premier League he was given an opportunity at Metalurg Donetsk and has developed into their number one goalkeeper, impressing with over ten clean sheets this season. His performance in the Ukrainian Cup final defeat against Shakhtar saw many commentators calling for his inclusion in Blokhins squad.

Look at the positives

The situation appears to be a desperate one as it would with every country at the Euros. With possibly the exception of Spain, every nation would be struggling to find a good choice of keeper with the first three unavailable. However all is not lost for Ukraine and the most enthusiastic commentators could even shed positive spin on the situation as Severyn Stetiuk has managed.

The loss of Shovkovskyi is on the whole a major blow for Ukraine, but it could possibly be a blessing in disguise. Following on from the controversial game between Shakhtar and Dynamo in April, Shakhtar defender Yaroslav Rakytskyi accused Shovkovskyi of offending him, Donetsk and his President and claimed that such a person should not be allowed to be in the Ukraine squad. The veteran Shovkovskyi hit back and it looked as if there could be a conflict between the two in the camp. With Shovkovskyi now missing out, Blokhin will no longer have to fear this disturbance, so a potential thorn in Ukraine’s side has been removed.

Missing the tournament could also spur Shovkovskyi on. He had previously stated that Euro 2012 would be his final involvement for the Ukrainian National side, but now he may he feel he has unfinished business.

Looking at goalkeepers such as Edwin Van Der Sar and Brad Friedal, Sasho may well feel confident he can continue into his 40’s. So Sasho could carry on and help Ukraine in any way he can in the build up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Let’s not forget he has bounced back from injury before and it cannot be ruled out that he will experience a resurgence heading into his 40s. He is also in touching distance of reaching a century of caps for Ukraine.

The opportunity that now presents itself to Pyatov, could help him regain his top form, which would seehim in the kind of performances which originally earned him the Ukraine number one jersey and helped Shakhtar secure the UEFA Cup. After coming through a tough psychological battle having lost his number one spot, Pyatov now has the chance to make it his own for years to come and this incentive could spur him on to make some positive performance. The same opportunity which presents itself to Pyatov, represents itself to all Ukrainian goalkeepers and this could inspire some great performances.

On the whole, the loss of the experienced keepers is a major blow for Ukraine, particularly the loss of Shovkovskyi. But it is not the end of the world for Ukraine, simply the opening of another door and the taking of another path. Who is to say that in a few weeks time people will be thanking the stars and Ukraine could have a new number one and a new hero.

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This post is in partnership with the The Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame. Check back for more guest posts from them. For more great info and history on Ukrainian soccer check out their website http://theviktorleonenkohalloffame.wordpress.com/.[/box]

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