Struggling Ukraine hosts Italy in friendly
Ukraine will be looking for its first win since September when the Euro 2012 co-host takes on Italy in a friendly on Tuesday.
Having qualified automatically for next year’s European Championship, which it is co-hosting with Poland, Ukraine is struggling to find its form in friendly matches.
It won a friendly tournament in Cyprus in February on penalties but has recorded four draws and a defeat since beating Chile 2-1 on Sept. 7. Coach Yuriy Kalytvyntsev has been in temporary charge since last August.
Italy’s fortunes have meanwhile been lifted by coach Cesare Prandelli, with his side’s 1-0 victory over Slovenia last week putting the 2006 World Cup winner six points clear in Group C.
After a loss to Ivory Coast in his first match in charge, the former Fiorentina coach has reinvigorated the side by bringing in new players and a new approach. Italy has won three and drawn three since the opening defeat and started to put memories of its first round exit from the 2010 World Cup to the back of the mind.
”I don’t think I am necessarily the man who started this new chapter, but at certain times I’ve had to have the courage to try something,” Prandelli said.
”We are at an important point on our journey,” he said. ”What makes me happy is that this Italy shows the desire to play football and have fun. Quality, courage, management. They are our watchwords.”
Prandelli was happy to highlight the contribution of Thiago Motta, who hit the winner against Slovenia. It was his first Italy goal since the Brazilian-born midfielder was given clearance to play for Italy.
”Thiago Motta isn’t a victory for me,” Prandelli said. ”Foreign players with Italian origins aren’t a problem for me, but a chance. Sixty percent of children in Italy have origins, or were born, overseas. It is simply the future.
”He has Brazilian technique and a European mentality.”
Prandelli has resisted the temptation to recall Mario Balotelli. The Manchester City striker and Daniele De Rossi were both left out of the Slovenia match under the terms of a new team code of conduct that means players under club suspension aren’t called up.
”Balotelli is a phenomenal talent. When he starts showing his quality on a regular basis he will be considered,” Prandelli said. ”That said all the players wanted to stay and this is a great sign.”
Prandelli is changing seven members of his lineup from Friday’s win over Slovenia.
Alberto Gilardino and United States-born forward Giuseppe Rossi replace Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini in attack, while Emiliano Viviano will play for Gianluigi Buffon in goal.
Ukraine will be without injured central defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy and midfielder Yevhen Konoplyanka.
”The Italian team has been rejuvenated with quite a few young players,” Ukraine captain Andriy Shevchenko said. ”The Italian team is always a very serious opponent.”
Bayern Munich midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Ukraine’s most capped player with 103, said Italy remains a strong opponent, even though it is currently going through a ”change of generations.”
”What weapon works against Italy? It’s long shots, fast attacks on the wings and individual moves in the penalty box,” Tymoshchuk said. ”Our opponents will go on the attack, so it’s important to take our chances on the counterattack.”
Kalytvyntsev said he was hoping for a full stadium to give maximum home advantage for his side.
”In preparations for Euro 2012 we’ve chosen meetings with traditionally strong teams and in all these matches we’ll be counting on active support from the fans,” he said.
In six meetings with Ukraine, the Azzurri has won five and drawn once. One of the victories was a 3-0 win in the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup.