KIEV (Reuters) - As if Ukraine was not beset with enough problems off the pitch, an unseemly row between two high-profile players is threatening to disrupt the country’s Euro 2016 campaign.
Taras Stepanenko recently announced that his friendship with Ukraine team mate Andriy Yarmolenko was over after the pair were involved in a spat during a league game this month.
Dynamo Kiev winger Yarmolenko kicked out at the Shakhtar Donetsk star with both players subsequently being dismissed following a melee between the teams who provide the bulk of Ukraine’s squad.
Ukraine manager Mykhaylo Fomenko has said the issues need to be sorted out and there are fears about the knock-on effect for the team who already face a tough Group C challenge against Germany, Northern Ireland and Poland, their co-hosts for Euro 2016 with whom they were also drawn in the 2014 World Cup qualifying group.
On that occasion Ukraine twice beat their neighbours and observers believe a repeat is possible, particularly if they look to be positive and vary their normal counter-attacking style. Against Spain in the qualifiers they created plenty of chances before losing both games narrowly.
With Slovakia also finishing above them in the group, five-time playoff failures Ukraine enjoyed an unaccustomed 3-1 success against Slovenia to qualify for the finals for the first time and ensure the 67-year-old Fomenko kept his job.
The coach is under pressure to adopt a less conservative approach and will have Ukrainian hero Andriy Shevchenko, who is touted as a possible successor, alongside him on the bench.
Ukraine could probably do with Shevchenko on the field as well: his two goals in the victory over Sweden in their opening game of Euro 2012 were as good as it got for a team who failed to get out of their group.
While Germany, whom they have never beaten, will provide stiff opposition, the games against Poland and Northern Ireland offer hope, particularly with four third-placed teams going through under the new qualifying format.
Ukraine hope the goals will flow from Andriy Yarmolenko, who has found a productive supply line from the passes of midfielder Serhiy Sydorchuk.
Editing by Neil Robinson