Wounded Ukraine Heads For Hampden

HAMPDEN, Scotland -- Scotland's victory in Paris has kept the nation's hope of playing in a major finals for the first time in 10 years very much alive.

Ukraine's Andriy Shevchenko

But Alex McLeish and his side need not look far for a warning that these Euro 2008 dreams are going to be tested to the full when Ukraine visits Hampden on Saturday.

The joy of victory over France last October did not last more than four days as the Scots went down 2-0 in Kiev.

Some of those who played that night have acknowledged the match in the former Soviet state has been the toughest in the group so far.

Scottish Football teams have been getting to know their Ukrainian counterparts pretty well recently.

A year on from the national sides clashing in the Ukrainian capital, Celtic and Aberdeen have both tackled club sides from the eastern European country.

The SPL champions went down by the same 2-0 scoreline suffered by then-manager Walter Smith's men, as Ukranian league leaders Shakhtar Donetsk picked up three Champions League points.

The Dons on the other hand, knocked Dnipro - with six potential Ukraine starters in their side - out of the Uefa Cup.

The Ukrainians' 2-1 defeat at the hands of World Champions Italy last month has left them with only a slim chance of qualifying for the finals in Austria and Switzerland next summer.

Football journalist and author of Behind the Curtain: Football in Eastern Europe, Jonathan Wilson, thinks the Scots are facing Oleg Blokhin's men at the right time.

"To be honest, they were undone by two breakaways against the Italians," he told BBC Sport.

"They won't admit it, but realistically, I think they will have given up on qualifying after that as it's now a long way back for them.

"Morale will be quite low so this is probably the best time to be facing them.

"I think they will now be looking to the future and may choose to try out some of the younger players."

Wilson also believes there is a different mentality in the Ukraine side from the one that convincingly beat the Scots a year ago.

"Ukraine was well up for it last time in Kiev," he added.

"They had just reached the last eight of the World Cup finals and had it all to play for in the group back then after a good start.

"The current squad surprised everyone because it was viewed as a bridge between a golden generation and a generation that promises much.

"So there was a feelgood factor that night that isn't there just now."

Oleg Blokhin's own future in charge of the Ukrainian national side is shrouded in doubt, with a move to take charge of his first love, Dinamo Kiev, an increasing possibility.

The outspoken 112-time-capped former USSR striker has hinted that his time with the World Cup quarter-finalists will end should Scotland defeat his men at Hampden.

And Blokhin's views regarding foreign imports flooding the Ukranian league have outraged many.

Fall-outs with players such as Liverpool's Andriy Voronin have also hit the headlines.

"I think it's certain he will go to Dinamo Kiev," Wilson went on.

"He and a lot of others are not happy with the number of Brazilians and others taking places in the top sides."

Scotland are likely to face Voronin and misfiring strike-partner and captain, Andriy Shevchenko.

But Wilson believes there are others who could deliver a severe blow to the Scots' Euro 2008 hopes.

"Oleksandr Gladky, who plays for Shakhtar and came off the bench against Celtic, is one of the reasons they are top of the league," he said.

"He has just turned 20 but played against Georgia and Italy last month.

"Dnipro showed against Aberdeen what they can do and they will be well represented in the squad too.

"Even if Ukraine wins, it will still be a massive task for them to qualify."

Source: BBC Sport

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