Mykhailo Mudryk and fellow Ukrainians standing in the way of France title’s hopes

France have duly made it out of their group, kicking off their U21 European Championship in perfect fashion. However, criticism could be levelled at the style of play. Thankfully, not only were opponents not quite at the level expected, but the individual quality of the attacking players shone through. This was particularly evident in a cagey affair against Switzerland.

France took the lead after Rayan Cherki, in his first start of the tournament, went on a solo run, before being taken down in the box by a Swiss defender. Amine Gouiri slotted the penalty kick home, before holding up Michael Olise’s shirt as part of the celebration, a touching homage to the Crystal Palace winger, who is out for the rest of the tournament through injury. Manu Koné unfortunately joined him on the list of absentees, after coming off with an injury a few minutes later.

As has been the case in the rest of the tournament, France’s defence was caught sleeping before the break. An opportunity the Swiss weren’t going to let pass, with Dan Ndoye scoring at the far post to bring the teams level at half-time.

After the break, the Olympique Lyonnais contingent woke up. First, Bradley Barcola intercepted an opponent’s pass, a quick attacking movement followed with Gouiri, before the Lyon winger finished the chance off. Next, Gouiri and Cherki combined, with the Gone dribbling past the defence and slotting home the third goal for France. Finally, after being propelled into the box by Enzo Le Fée’s pass, Barcola crossed the ball back, for his captain Maxence Caqueret to finish off the game. With all four goals and assists coming from OL graduates, the club will certainly be delighted – even if they may all leave this summer.

While much of the win can be put down to the Swiss defence and their tiredness, the individual talent on show certainly reminded everyone why France were one of the favourites. Now, they have to confirm their status by pushing aside an up-and-coming Ukrainian side.

Get French Football News spoke to Sergei M., a close follower of Ukrainian football. Many in the squad have a history of success already, having won the U20 World Cup in 2019. The U21 team has not had the same success though, only qualifying twice prior to this tournament. They did, however, reach the final in 2006, losing out to Klass-Jan Hunterlaar’s Dutch side, with long-serving Shakhtar Donetsk goalkeeper, Andriy Piatov, playing in that game.

In qualifying for the tournament, Ukraine were pitted against France, against whom they lost 5-0 and drew 3-3, by which point both teams had already qualified. While they may be a very solid team defensively, and possess talent in midfield, Sergei believes they are the most dangerous on the counter.

Contrary to previous teams, this team is not solely built around Shakhtar and Dynamo Kyiv players, with individuals even playing abroad (in Austria, Belgium, Latvia, Azerbaijan and of course, England with Mudryk). The latter is part of a small group of players who have come ‘down’ from the senior squad, including starting goalkeeper, Anatoliy Trubin.

Here are the players France should look out for:

Anatoliy Trubin (Shakhtar Donetsk): “Starting goalkeeper at club level since 2021, and he has also gained that role with his national team. Very good on his line, but he has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to his ball playing abilities. He is on the radar of many top European sides, and could even leave this summer”. Played a major role in Shakhtar’s win over Stade Rennais in the Europa League, particularly in the penalty shootout.

Maksym Taloverov (LASK): “After receiving his footballing education in Ukraine, he started his professional career abroad. A towering defender (195cm), he guides his teammates with authority and a great intelligence in positioning himself. Very comfortable on the ball as well”.

Volodymyr Brazhko (Chornomorets Odesa): “After a single professional year in football, he already shown a lot of quality. He is a very important element of the Zorya, who finished third in the national league. With the aging Stepanenko and Sydrochuk in the senior squad, we were worried about a generational gap in midfield. With Brazhko, there is a lot of hope, and his performances at the Euros only confirm this”.

The match-up promises to be an end-to-end one, particularly with the quick wingers capable of breaking up Les Bleuets’ shaky backline. On paper however, France should edge past their next opponents and reach the semi-final of the tournament.

GFFN | Tom Abadie

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