Rome (AFP) – Excitement is building in England after their Euro 2020 last-16 win over Germany, a result which left them with a theoretically favourable path to the final as they look to win a first major tournament since 1966.
However Ukraine, who stand in their way in Saturday’s quarter-final in Rome, are hoping to pull off a shock victory and advance to the last four of a major competition for the first time since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
AFP Sport looks at the main men in the yellow and blue going into the game at the Stadio Olimpico:
The legend: Andriy Shevchenko
The former Ballon d’Or winner is Ukraine’s all-time leading scorer and one of the greatest players of his generation. He was the captain of the last Ukraine team to make a quarter-final, at the 2006 World Cup when they lost to Italy. Now he is the coach of a side that only just scraped out of their group as one of the best third-placed sides by virtue of a single win over North Macedonia and then defeated Sweden in the last 16 with a goal right at the end of extra time.
Now aged 44, Shevchenko took over in 2016 and has overseen some impressive results which suggest his team cannot be underestimated. They topped their qualifying group ahead of Portugal and beat Spain in the Nations League last October. In March they held France to a draw in Paris in World Cup qualifying.
Now Shevchenko returns to Italy, where he enjoyed such success as a player with AC Milan, while Ukraine’s opponents will bring back memories of a frustrating spell with Chelsea.
The star player: Oleksandr Zinchenko
The 24-year-old Zinchenko plays at left-back for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City but in midfield for his country, a position that enabled him to score the opener against Sweden in Glasgow with a fine strike before he set up Artem Dovbyk’s last-gasp winner.
Zinchenko is a star in Shevchenko’s side as a rare Ukrainian playing in one of Europe’s big five leagues, but he is also symbolic of the nation’s wider struggles.
The former captain of Shakhtar Donetsk’s youth side never played for their senior team as he moved with his family to Russia when conflict broke out in Ukraine’s Donbas region.
He ended up playing for Ufa, 1400 kilometres to the east of Moscow. After playing for Ukraine at Euro 2016 when still a teenager, he earned a move to City and has gone on to establish himself at the Etihad Stadium since an initial loan spell at PSV Eindhoven.
The captain: Andriy Yarmolenko
The 31 year-old is another familiar face to fans of the Premier League as he has been at West Ham United since 2018.
A right-winger who likes to come back inside onto his favoured left foot, Yarmolenko has captained Ukraine at the Euro and scored a stunning goal in their opening 3-2 defeat against the Netherlands before netting their opener in the 2-1 win over North Macedonia.
Born in Russia, in modern-day Saint Petersburg, Yarmolenko made his name at Dynamo Kiev, coming through their academy and playing for their first team for almost a decade before moving to Borussia Dortmund, where he spent just a single season.
Man to watch: Ruslan Malinovskyi
The 28-year-old attacking midfielder set up the equalising goal in the thrilling 3-2 defeat to the Dutch and then missed a penalty against North Macedonia. He was dropped from the starting line-up against Sweden but there is no doubt he is a player capable of producing a moment of magic.
The one-time Shakhtar Donetsk player will be on familiar ground in Italy too, having moved to Serie A in 2019 when Atalanta signed him from Belgian side Genk.
Malinovskyi has been a star in the Atalanta side that has finished third in each of his two seasons in Italy. He is clearly settled in Bergamo, where local media reported earlier this year that his partner Roxana was to open an upmarket clothing boutique in the city.