by Patrick Hartfrom
Estádio Municipal de Aveiro
Ukraine have reached the UEFA European Under-21 Championship final after defeating Serbia and Montenegro 5-4 on penalties following a thrilling 0-0 draw. Milan Purović's miss proved costly as the shoot-out ended in a sudden-death situation. Olexiy Mykhaylychenko's men, whose national anthem translates as 'Ukraine is not yet dead', lived to fight another day.
In a reflection of the first half, Serbia and Montenegro threatened the early breakthrough. First, Purović raced between Ukraine's centre-backs to latch on to a lofted pass from the left by Nenad Milijaš, and from just inside the penalty area, lobbed centimetres wide with goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov beaten. A similar move followed, only from the right, with Dušan Basta's long ball being perfectly weighted for Purović to touch with his instep, over the keeper, but again narrowly off target.
The sad contrast for Ukraine was the sight of leading scorer Artem Milevskiy, always a languid figure, labouring with a back injury. Milevskiy still found space to angle a beautiful ball which Ruslan Fomin met with a diagonal run and flicked against the legs of goalkeeper Vladimir Stojković. That, however, was his last contribution.
It seemed a Serbo-Montenegrin ploy to win left-wing free-kicks and after one such set-piece had been half-cleared, a cross was whipped in from the other flank by Basta for Purović to head against a defender and over. Then Milijaš menaced, running through midfield, via a one-two with Miloš Krasić, and rifling over from 30 metres. He would go closer yet with a free-kick near to half-time.
Delivery was also key when Adrian Pukanych's left-sided centre prompted pinball in the Serbo-Montenegrin back line. While the Balkan side asked more questions, Fomin, assisted by lively substitute Olexiy Godin, answered the one about his team's ability to cope without Milevskiy, drawing a foul from, and yellow card for, blue-shirted totem Milan Biševac.
Out of context
This was a match befitting its location, an ultra-modern bowl of a stadium, out of town and out of context with the surrounding countryside. These countries had not been expected to be here either, but such was progress. When Grigoriy Yarmash surged down the right following the restart, Ukraine almost made their mark in Aveiro, Pukanych shooting into the sidenetting.
Milijaš then took the introduction of a midfield rival in Olexandr Aliyev as his cue to launch a strike at Pyatov. Aliyev responded with a free-kick from the byline which fell for Olexandr Maksymov, free in the area, to fire over. A more inviting opportunity arrived on 67 minutes but Ukraine's Taras Mikhalik shot in haste. Yet Ukrainian superiority was short-lived. Branislav Ivanović nodded a Milijaš corner against Pyatov. Purović was prompted by Basta to drive hard and low towards Pyatov's near post; the keeper saved.
The yellows came again. Yarmash and Mikhalik's combination produced a shooting chance for Aliyev, before Olexandr Yatsenko flicked a corner wide. The traffic was one-way as full time approached, despite the busy Basta's best Pavel Nedvěd impression. Parity reigned, though. In a tournament attuned to stadium rock, both sides were keeping the dream alive.
So to extra time and another shift in momentum. Milijaš tested Pyatov's reflexes from long range while from point-blank, Purović miscued. Ukraine stood up to the pressure, all except Fomin, felled by Janković's exocet. When Olexandr Rybka replaced Pyatov with seconds remaining, penalties appeared the inevitable conclusion, although the newcomer had to dive to keep out Janković's bicycle kick. As the drama segued into a shoot-out, Aliyev and Janković missed their sides' opening attempts with Stojković and Rybka saving. The remaining conversions were successful until Purović's stroke of bad luck.
Carlsberg Man of the Match: Andriy Pyatov
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