Ukraine vs North Macedonia. European Championships Group C.
Report as Ukraine hold off North Macedonia's spirited fight back; Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk gave Ukraine first-half lead; Ezgjan Alioski missed penalty but converted rebound to bring North Macedonia back into game; Ukraine held on despite missing penalty of their own
Thursday 17 June 2021 23:01, UK
Ukraine got their Euro 2020 campaign up and running with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over North Macedonia in Bucharest.
Andriy Shevchenko's side put the disappointment of their opening 3-2 defeat to the Netherlands firmly behind them as first-half goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk put them in the ascendancy.
However, North Macedonia showed plenty of fighting spirit and found a route back into the game when Goran Pandev was caught inside the penalty area by Vyacheslav Karavayev. Ezgjan Alioski's penalty was saved but the Leeds star reacted quickest to tuck home the rebound.
It set up a grandstand finish at the National Arena but Ukraine held on to secure all three points despite missing a late penalty as goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski denied Ruslan Malinovskiy.
Victory gives Ukraine a fighting chance of qualifying for the last 16 from Group C, but after back-to-back defeats, North Macedonia have exited the tournament after Netherlands beat Austria 2-0 on Thursday evening.
Ukraine flew out of the traps and Stole Dimitrievski was thrust into the action early, parrying Malinovskiy's 20-yard strike away to safety.
Shevchenko's side looked threatening every time they went forward as Yaremchuk got in behind the North Macedonia defence, but Stefan Ristovski's crucial interception prevented a second goal.
They eventually got their reward for a dominant start, capitalising on some extremely poor defending from a corner. Vyacheslav Karavayev flicked the ball on at the near post and it fell to a completely unmarked Yarmolenko to tap home from close range.
Ukraine: Bushchan (7), Karavaev (6), Zabarnyi (6), Matviyenko (7), Mykolenko (6), Stepanenko (6), Shaparenko (6), Zinchenko (7), Yarmolenko (8), Malinovskyi (8), Yaremchuk (7).
Subs: Tsygankov (6), Besedin (6), Sydorchuk (n/a), Sobol (n/a).
North Macedonia: Dimitrievski (7), S Ristovski (7), Velkovski (6), Musliu (6), Nikolov (5), Ademi (6), Spirovski (5), Alioski (7), Bardi (8), Elmas (7), Pandev (7).
Subs: Trajkovski (7), Churlinov (6), Avramovski (n/a), Ristevski (n/a), Trickovski (n/a).
Man of the match: Ruslan Malinovskiy
It was two five minutes later as North Macedonia's high line was breached once again. Yarmolenko was involved again as his pass released Yaremchuk, who tucked the ball past Dimitrievski at his near post.
North Macedonia thought they'd halved the deficit when Pandev lifted the ball over Heorhiy Bushchan, but the flag was eventually raised for offside against the veteran forward.
It was a good moment for North Macedonia, and there was further encouragement just after the break when Enis Bardhi forced Heorhiy Bushchan into a fine save at his near post.
North Macedonia, backed by their excellent support began to build up some headway and they were handed a route back into the game. Trajkovski's shot was tipped onto the bar by Bushchan, but the danger was not over as Pandev was caught by Karavayev as looked to get onto the rebound.
Referee Fernando Rapallini pointed to the spot and despite Bushchan keeping out Alsioski's initial spot kick, the Leeds full-back converted the rebound to breath like into the game.
Ukraine were losing control of proceedings and Schevchenko reacted by taking both goalscorers off as Yarmolenko and Yaremchuk were replaced by Artem Besyedin and Viktor Tsygankov, and Tsygankov should have made the game safe, but with the goal at his mercy he fired wide from 15 yards.
They had another glorious chance to wrap up the game when the referee awarded them a spot kick after going to the pitchside monitor - the first time in the tournament - to check for a handball by Daniel Avramovski.
However, Malinovsky's strike was well saved Dimitrievski, but it didn't prove to be too costly as Ukraine held on to ignite their bid to reach the knockout stages and leave North Macedonia on the brink of a group stage exit.
The penalty miss was the only blot on his copybook during what was an outstanding performance.
He was a constant threat to the North Macedonia defence and the driving force behind Ukraine's victory.
Ukraine coach Andriy Shevchenko: "This part of the European Championship is a very different atmosphere, during any second the balance of the team can change. The team played a very good first half but then our mistake caused a penalty.
"Then some anxiety and nervousness appeared. We got more chances and should have scored a third but we also have to praise our rivals. North Macedonia have character.
"We had enough chances to score more, to judge how we score and when you need to see how many chances we have, how we played in attack and what opportunities we have."
North Macedonia coach Igor Angelovski: "The match is 90 minutes and the goal was to be more cautious in the beginning, unfortunately we conceded from a corner.
"In the second half, we saw the real Macedonia and why we are here at the European Championship. Congratulations to the boys for the great game in the second half. If the public reward you with that kind of applause it indicates you have played a good match.
"You saw, unlike the first game, they played completely relaxed and that was the real Macedonia. There is no greater motivation than to play against a big Holland team (next)."
The final round of Group C fixtures takes place on Monday with Ukraine facing Austria in Bucharest at 5pm and North Macedonia travelling to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands at the same time.