The retirement in 2012 of talismanic forward Andriy Shevchenko came after his native country of Ukraine had co-hosted the last European Championships. Moreover, it marked the end of an era for the nation and team who hailed him a deity throughout his illustrious career.
After a brief and unsuccessful foray into the world of politics, Shevchenko took up the role of assistant coach to current manager Mykhailo Fomenko, and the Synyo-Zhovti will be hoping he can have a just as big an influence this summer.
Once again qualification wasn’t hugely straightforward for Ukraine; their group was topped by Spain with Slovakia in second. But they did manage to defeat play-off challengers Slovenia with relative ease, advancing to the finals 3-1 on aggregate. Their Euro 2016 campaign kicks off in earnest on 12th of June with a challenging fixture to say the very least: they face World Champions and tournament favourites Germany. While their remaining group games couldn’t possibly be any harder, they don’t exactly represent ‘gimmes’. Fellow Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland boast arguably the best centre-forward in the world in Robert Lewandowski, while surprise Group F toppers Northern Ireland won’t roll over easy either, especially if a particular Northern Ireland attacker manages to render the Ukrainian defence terrified.
However Ukraine aren’t short on talent themselves: their captain and most-capped player ever, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, was a Champions League winner at Bayern Munich and, aged 37, will be hoping to imbue some of his vast experience into his younger squadmates. Other names of note include Sevilla winger Yevhen Konoplyanka, who has just helped Sevilla to their third Europa League title on the trot, and perennial Tottenham and Liverpool target Andriy Yarmolenko, both of whom make up the bulk of the Ukrainian goal threat.
So despite a modest-at-best sprinkling of star quality, Ukraine will provide a stern test for their Group C peers. It’s unlikely they’ll advance past that stage, but they’ll also live in hope that their great striking shaman, Andriy Shevchenko, will be imparting his superlative wisdom from the sidelines to both Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka.