BUCHAREST: Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmolenko (R) scores during the Euro 2020 Group ‘C’ match against North Macedonia at the National Arena.—Reuters
BUCHAREST: Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmolenko (R) scores during the Euro 2020 Group ‘C’ match against North Macedonia at the National Arena.—Reuters

BUCHAREST: Andriy Yarmolenko grabbed a goal and an assist as Ukraine beat North Macedonia 2-1 on Thursday to boost their chances of reaching the Euro 2020 knockout stages and leave their opponents’ hopes hanging by a thread.

Yarmolenko netted from close range in 29th minute after Oleksandr Karavaev’s flick from a corner. He then released Roman Yaremchuk on the right flank in the 34th to double the lead with a low shot past onrushing goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski.

Ezgjan Alioski pulled a goal back for North Macedonia just before the hour as he converted the rebound from his missed penalty, while Ukraine midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi also saw a late spot-kick saved.

Andriy Shevchenko’s side are now level on three points with Austria and the Netherlands in Group ‘C’ after Ukraine ended a six-match losing run in the competition.

Major tournament newcomers North Macedonia have lost their first two games and will be eliminated if the Dutch avoid defeat to Austria in Amsterdam, where victory for either side will secure a spot in the knockout phase.

Ukraine are appearing in their third European Championship and have never progressed out of the group stage. The team will remain in Bucharest for their final group match against Austria while North Macedonia will travel Amsterdam to face the Netherlands.

On Wednesday, Italy became the first team to reach the knockout stage of Euro 2020 as midfielder Manuel Locatelli scored twice in a 3-0 win over Switzerland in Rome, while Wales moved to the brink of joining them by beating Turkey.

The Azzurri, now unbeaten in 29 matches and having won their last 10 games without conceding a goal, sit first in Group ‘A’ and are guaranteed a top-two finish and last-16 berth.

“We played well, we wanted to win at all costs,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini told RAI. “They started well, it was not easy to win a second game in five days.”

Mancini’s men, looking to win Italy a second European title after their sole success in 1968, host Wales in their final group game on Sunday, with top spot up for grabs.

A new star shone for Italy at the Stadio Olimpico, where they had brushed aside Turkey 3-0 in the tournament’s opening match last week, as Sassuolo’s Locatelli scored twice before Ciro Immobile’s late third.

Locatelli’s first goal came following a textbook exchange with Sassuolo team-mate Domenico Berardi midway through the first half. His second came with a long and low shot shortly after the break that left Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer immobile.

Immobile added the last goal from long range in the 89th minute.

Giorgio Chiellini had a goal waved off by video review early in the match because of a handball. Then the Italy captain exited with an apparent left thigh injury.

As usual and perhaps the only characteristic carried on from Italy teams of the past the defense was impenetrable.

Switzerland will now likely have to beat Turkey in Baku on Sunday to reach the next round.

After drawing 1-1 with the Swiss in their opening Group ‘A’ game, Wales now have four points from two matches after goals from Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts saw off a disappointing Turkey 2-0.

“You’d like to think so, but we’ll have to wait and see,” said Wales captain Gareth Bale, who set up both goals and missed a penalty, when asked if his team had done enough to get through. “If you’d offered us four points at the start we would’ve bitten your hand off.”

Bale played a lobbed pass over the defence that Ramsey chested down before knocking it past onrushing Turkey goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir in the 42nd minute.

Bale, whose future at Real Madrid is uncertain, won a penalty just after the hour mark but was uncharacteristically wayward from the spot.

Robert Page’s Wales grabbed the second goal their performance deserved in stoppage time, as Bale danced through and teed up Roberts to sweep into the net.

On Friday, England are up against Scotland at Wembley Stadium in Group ‘D’ following their opening win against Croatia.

While England have some breathing space, the Scots, who lost to the Czech Republic 2-0 in their opener and have never advanced from the group stage at a major tournament, need a win.

Croatia’s chances of advancing at the tournament hinge on getting a result against the Czechs at Hampden Park in Glasgow in the group’s other game on Friday.

In the third game on Friday, Sweden face Slovakia in St Petersburg after having held Spain to a goalless draw in their Group ‘E’ opener.

The Slovaks opened with an unexpected 2-1 win over Poland and might only need a point from their remaining two group games to advance.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2021

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