No. 43 Ukraine retain their European title

The Ukrainian football 7-a-side team make the Top 50 Moments of 2014 as they prove once again they are the force to be reckoned with in Europe. 19 Nov 2014
Players celebrate, jumping one on another on a football field of play

No. 43 Ukraine football 7-a-side team retain European title

ⒸMaia 2014
By Richard McTiernan

“I believe there should be no fear in front of any team, only good preparation and tactics.”

Ukraine retained their European title in dramatic fashion at the 2014 Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA) Football 7-a-side European Championships in Maia, Portugal, making it one of the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of the Year.

In the first major competition since two-time Paralympic champions Ukraine lost 1-0 in an agonising final to rivals Russia at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, they bounced back in perfect fashion.

After comfortably qualifying from the group stage, a resounding 6-0 win over Northern Ireland followed in the quarter finals, before facing their nemesis of two-years previous, Russia, in the semi-finals.

With the two sides inseparable, penalties ensued and the Ukrainian’s squeezed through 5-4.

High on confidence

This dramatic victory meant confidence was high heading into the final and despite the gruelling conditions; they demolished the Netherlands 3-0 thanks to goals from captain Volodymyr Antoniuk, Yevhen Zinoviev and Vitalii Romanchuk.

Taras Dutko was one of the veterans of the Ukrainian side, having guided them to the Paralympic title at both the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.

According to him, their defeat at London 2012 spurred them on to the success in Portugal.

“Defeat always stimulates you to work harder, there are no victories without defeat,” he said.

“At the European Championships we wanted to retain this title and set ourselves up to win.”

He added: “It [the final] was tough. The weather was really bad, heavy raining; the organisers were doing their best to save the field for the final game. We were very tired after Russia and had lots of injuries, but there is always a very high level of responsibility in the final.”

Defence v attack

The gold medal game was a match-up of attacking prowess against defensive strength. The Netherlands had notched 34 goals, including two 14-0 drubbings in the group stage, whereas Ukraine had only conceded three goals all competition.

But the free-scoring Dutch found the Ukrainian defence too tough to break down, and when asked what enabled them to retain their crown as the best team in Europe, Dutko put it down to one thing.

“Ukraine’s unbroken spirit, our will to win, our hard-work and constant training,” he said.

“I believe there should be no fear in front of any team, only good preparation and tactics.”

The next step for Ukraine is to claim back their Paralympic title at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil.

His country will undoubtedly be amongst the favourites, but Dutko reckons it will be the hosts that people need to keep an eye on in Rio.

“Our main rival will be Brazil, as the host and a country of football with deep history and traditions, as well as Russia, Iran, England and the Netherlands.

“It will be a spectacular and tough competition.”

Visit the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2014 campaign page for more information or have a look at this video about the event (in Portugese)