Roman Zozulya returned from a 7 month injury lay off on Wednesday evening with the winning goal in Dnipro's 3:2 Ukrainian Cup victory over Olympik Donetsk. With Mykhaylo Fomenko due to announce his Ukraina squad for the upcoming UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Play-Off aganst Slovenia, should Zozulya be included in the squad?
Before his injury, Zozulya was a key figure in Fomenko's squad, he was present in all previous squads before his injuries. His last appearance for the Blue-Yellows was the 1-0 defeat to Spain in Seville in March. Despite being called up regularly, Zozulya suffers from a poor goal scoring record for Zbirna with a return of only three goals in 22 caps. His last goal for Ukraina was in the 2014 World Cup Qualifying Play-Off against France in Kyiv in 2013. Is he really the man who can spearhead Ukraine’s attack to glory against Slovakia?
Ukraine's major problem during this campaign has been on the attacking side as they have not been clinical enough in front of goal. The defence has been one of the best in Europe throughout the campaign, only conceding four goals in total, but on four occasions they have failed to score and have not been clinical against the lower rank sides either. This was never more evident than in the most recent game against Spain. Ukraine forced Spanish keeper David De Gae into 9 saves, with many more chances hit wide, one can’t help feel that Andriy Shevchenko would have converted more than one of these chances.
Ukraine hit 14 goals throughout the campaign a massive drop off from the 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign when they scored 28. Andriy Yarmolenko has top scored this time for Zbirna with four of the goals and Artem Kravets is the top scoring striker with three goals, albeit he has not started every game.
Zozulya is known as something of a workhorse for Ukraine and was compared to Wayne Rooney during the 2014 Campaign. It can be argued that his work rate created space for Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka who were more clinical when he was in the squad. Fomenko likes playing a settled squad and when he was fit, Zozulya was the focal point of this despite the lack of goals. After his goal scoring return from injury Fomenko was pressed on the return of Zozulya and stated that Roman is being observed and that his inclusion in the squad against Slovenia is possible. Fomenko stated that he hopes, God willing, that Zozulya will continue his return in the same spirit.
In my opinion if Zozulya can prove his fitness he would be a welcome inclusion to the squad. His character and positivity could breathe some fresh enthusiasm into the team and this lift could be crucial. Although it would be unexpected for him to complete the full 90 minutes in both legs, he could become something of a “joker” or super-sub for Fomenko and his work rate could be brought off the bench should it be required. The manager has his favourites and Zozulya is among them so his inclusiuon would be no real surprise.
Whilst he has been injured, Zozulya has supported and raised money for Ukrainian troops fighting the Russian invasion of Donbas earning himself the nickname “Patriot”. He has become increasingly popular with the fans during his absence with his social media presence promoting the cause of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and his fund raising efforts.
A poll on Football24.ua suggested that over 80% of readers favoured the inclusion of Roman Zozulya in Ukraine’s squad. Mykhaylo Fomenko is expected to announce the Ukraine squad to face Slovenia next week. The first leg of the UEFA Euro 2016 play-off is on November 14th in Lviv, before the second leg in Maribor, Slovenia on November 17th.