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Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko: Ukraine’s new hope

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he current political situation in Ukraine dictates that footballing matters are taking a back seat, but there are reasons for sporting optimism in the eastern European nation.

The country has had a host of players leave their shores to play in Europe’s major leagues in the recent past, with Andriy Shevchenko, Serhiy Rebrov, Andriy Voronin and Oleh Luzhny the most memorable of the last generation.

However, of the most recent Ukraine squad that is vying for qualification to Euro 2016, only two play their football outside of the country’s domestic league.

Ukrainian players have particularly struggled to make an impact in the Premier League, but there is every chance that two of the nation’s most-exciting stars will have a chance to rectify this in the near future.

In Mykhaylo Fomenko’s national set-up, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko are the undoubted stars; both are attacking midfielders of quality, both are 25 and both are ready for a move to a major European club.

In Ukraine’s most recent national fixture, a 3-0 victory over Luxembourg back in November, Yarmolenko netted hist first international hat-trick in an impressive performance.

The versatile attacker has played in the national set-up since 2009 and his exploits for club and country have made him a household name in European football – some have compared him to Ukraine’s most-famous football son Shevchenko.

Yarmolenko has been an essential part of a unbeaten Dynamo Kiev side that has stormed to the top of the Ukrainian Premier League with 11 wins from their first 14 games.

Defending champions Shakhtar Donetsk have been finished first for the last five seasons in a row, with Yarmolenko key in potentially ending the nation’s most successful club’s title drought.

The 25-year-old is the league’s joint top goalscorer this term with nine strikes, while the skilful forward has also contributed five assists.

Yarmolenko’s development over recent seasons, exposure to national and European football and profile indicate that he is ready to show his ability in one of the continent’s major top flights.

Andriy Konoplyanka and Yevhen KonoplyankaAlongside the Dynamo man in the national set-up, Dnipro’s Konoplyanka has blossomed into an international-quality player since making his debut in 2010.

The pair dominate the flanks in an exciting Ukraine forward line, with Konoplyanka’s vision and technique gaining him plenty of plaudits for his performances.

At club level, the attacking midfielder has starred in Dnipro making progress in the Europa League in recent seasons and now looks almost certain to leave Ukrainian club football either this month or in the summer.

Konoplyanka’s contract with Dnipro expires in the summer and with the winger keen to expand his footballing horizons a move overseas seems an inevitability.

The 25-year-old was famously close to signing for Liverpool last January, but a big-money deal to take him to Anfield fell through at the last minute.

With Premier League sides reportedly ready to land him for a reduced fee this January or for nothing at the end of the campaign, it appears that Konoplyanka will get an opportunity to excel where some of his compatriots have failed in the past.

Shevchenko was and still is an AC Milan legend, winning the 2004 Ballon d’Or while on the books of the Rossoneri.

However a three-year spell at Chelsea proved to be a disaster with only nine Premier League goals and a major drop in confidence all to show from his time at Stamford Bridge.

Rebrov was Tottenham’s club record signing when he moved to North London in 2000, but quickly became the subject of derision as he struggled to find his best form, leaving four years later as a failed experiment.

Voronin had some success in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen in particular, but only managed 27 Premier League games in three years at Liverpool before leaving for Dynamo Moscow.

Luzhny won a Premier League title and two FA Cups with Arsenal over a four-year spell but was largely used in a rotation system and certainly not a key payer in the club’s success.

It appears that Ukrainian football needs a new star to move to and prosper in the Premier League or another major European league; Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko are certainly the two best players of the current generation and should get their chance in the near future.

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