Fifth in FIFA World Cup qualifying Group H after collecting just two points from their first three games, UEFA EURO 2012 co-hosts Ukraine have it all to do if they are to make it to Brazil next summer.
However, after replacing his former FC Dynamo Kyiv team-mate Oleh Blokhin at the helm, 64-year-old Mykhailo Fomenko is not throwing in the towel just yet, and will look to signal the start of a new era with a friendly against Norway in Seville on Wednesday. "We still have the task to qualify for Brazil," he said. "Yes, it is very difficult to turn the qualifying situation around, but we have a saying that there is still hope even when it seems that there is none."
Capped 24 times by the Soviet Union, Fomenko won the 1975 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and the UEFA Super Cup alongside Blokhin at Dynamo. He has vast experience as a coach, having taken charge of his first club – FC Frunzenets Sumy – in 1979, when he was 31. Blokhin is now in full-time charge of Dynamo, but he took time out to meet up with his former team-mate in Spain to discuss the national side. "We had things to talk about," said Fomenko. “I was eager to hear his opinion of every lad."
Wednesday's game will give Fomenko the chance to see his new charges in person, and he has been broadening the net in terms of squad selection. One of seven Dynamo players called up, 23-year-old midfielder Andriy Bogdanov could make his debut, while FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk's Denys Oliynyk and FC Metalurh Donetsk's Mykola Morozyuk – both pacy wing men – are being given another opportunity to impress after long absences from the international scene.
Regarded as a pupil of legendary Dynamo coach Valeriy Lobanovskiy, Fomenko caused a stir by not calling up 32-year-old Serhiy Nazarenko – regarded as Ukraine's best player at UEFA EURO 2012 – but he refused to be drawn on whether he was planning a wholesale tactical shift. "You rarely see rigid tactical models in football anymore," he said. "We have to change formations many times in a game and anyone who doesn't puts himself at an obvious disadvantage."
Fomenko knows he has to have his tactics spot on when Ukraine visit Poland for his first competitive encounter on 22 March. "The most important thing for Ukraine is to play well in Warsaw,” he said, adding: "I am happy that our players have not admitted defeat in the qualifying group and that everything depends on us.
"Many expect us to play adventurously, believing we have nothing to lose, but we won't. We will play the style of football that we can master by the time we play that game."
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