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Preview: Ukraine vs. Northern Ireland - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's International Friendlies clash between Ukraine and Northern Ireland, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Northern Ireland will hope to make it back-to-back wins in friendlies when they travel to Ukraine on Thursday.

Ian Baraclough's side earned a convincing 3-0 win over Malta on Sunday, while their opponents are busy preparing for the European Championships.

Match preview

Paddy McNair pictured for Northern Ireland in September 2020© Reuters

The two countries last met five years ago in the group stage of Euro 2016, when Northern Ireland picked up a historic 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn.

Ukraine will return to the Championships this summer and Thursday is the second of their three warmup games, but Northern Ireland's hopes of competing in the tournament were crushed in an extra time defeat to Slovakia in the playoff final last year.

Sadly, the Green and White Army will watch on from the sofa this summer before resuming World Cup qualifying in September, but they will certainly want to head into the summer on a high.

Baraclough's time in charge so far has not been without its disappointments – that playoff defeat was sandwiched in a Nations League campaign that ended in relegation – and the victory over Malta was the first time in 12 attempts that he had won a game in 90 minutes.

Jordan Jones opened the scoring after just two minutes before goals from Gavin Whyte and Ali McCann early in the second half killed the game off; it was Northern Ireland's biggest margin of victory since September 2018.

Ukraine's Junior Moraes celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on March 28, 2021© Reuters

For Ukraine, it has been a topsy turvy few years. They went through 2019 unbeaten, topping their group ahead of Portugal in qualification for the Euros but since the start of 2020 they have won only two of 11 matches.

All of their four fixtures so far in 2021 have ended in 1-1 draws, which range from the respectable – against France in World Cup qualifying – to the worrying – against 98th-ranked Bahrain in a friendly last month.

At the European Championships, Ukraine have been drawn in Group C along with the Netherlands, North Macedonia and Austria and will fancy their chances of getting to the knockout stages at a major tournament for the first time since 2006.

That was the era of Andriy Shevchenko, who is now the manager of the national team, a role he has held since 2016. The current squad is headlined by Premier League stars Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Ukraine form (all competitions):
  • L
  • L
  • D
  • D
  • D
  • D

Northern Ireland form (all competitions):
  • L
  • D
  • L
  • L
  • D
  • W

Team News

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough on March 31, 2021© Reuters

After missing two of November's games with coronavirus and March's World Cup qualifiers due to injury, Andriy Yarmolenko is set to make a welcome return to Ukraine's starting lineup.

There is less good news about Yevhen Konoplyanka, who has pulled out of the squad for Thursday's friendly but still hopes to make the cut for the European Championships.

Oleksandr Zinchenko should be involved in some capacity after featuring for Manchester City in the Champions League final last weekend.

Dan Ballard and Kyle Lafferty will be available for Northern Ireland after missing the Malta friendly as they had been involved with playoff games with Blackpool and Kilmarnock respectively.

Chelsea's Sam McClelland could be handed his debut after 17-year-old Conor Bradley of Liverpool was given his first senior minutes in the closing stages against Malta.

Ukraine possible starting lineup:
Bushchan; Matvienko, Kryvtsov, Zabarnyi; Karavaev, Stepanenko, Makarenko, Zinchenko; Malinovskyi; Yarmolenko, Yaremchuk

Northern Ireland possible starting lineup:
Peacock-Farrell; Whyte, Cathcart, Ballard, McNair, Dallas; McCann, Saville, McCalmont; Magennis, Lafferty

SM words green background

We say: Ukraine 2-1 Northern Ireland

Ukraine will be strengthened by the additions of Yarmolenko and Zinchenko, so should provide a tough test for Northern Ireland. With the hosts also building up to peak performance level ahead of the Euros, we think it will be a narrow defeat for Baraclough's men.

Top tip

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