Ukraine goalkeeper to miss crucial Ireland match after positive Covid test

A draw would secure Ireland a place in the play-offs for the Euro 2021 finals
Ukraine goalkeeper to miss crucial Ireland match after positive Covid test

Goalkeeper Kateryna Samson celebrates Ukraine's first goal against the Republic of Ireland at Tallaght Stadium in October 2019. Ireland won 3-2. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

After Covid-19 weakened Ireland men’s team earlier this month, the women have indirectly benefited from the virus as Ukraine will be without their first-choice goalkeeper for Friday’s critical Euro qualifier (kick-off 4.30pm).

Kateryna Samson — a veteran of Ukraine’s only major tournament appearance at the 2009 Euros — had a positive result from Uefa’s round of testing on Monday.

The testing programme also led to defender Kateryna Korsun being ruled out of the fixture but the absence of regular stopper Samson plays most into Ireland’s hands.

Iryna Sanina is a 35-year-old veteran but Samson’s deputy will earn only her fourth cap at the Obolon Arena in Kiev.

The FAI reported a full set of negative results on their players from the first round of this week’s testing. A repeat round was undertaken on Wednesday, with results due before they fly by charter from their training base in Duisburg to Kiev on Thursday.

The task facing Vera Pauw’s Girls in Green is straightforward — once they return from the Ukrainian capital on their charter flight without a defeat, runners-up in the final standings will be theirs. 

That draw would secure Ireland a place in the play-offs for the 2022 finals but the added motivation is the effect of victory likely shuttling them there as one of the three best second-placed across nine groups.

Ukraine have been quietly awaiting their turn to try to derail Ireland’s route to a first-ever major qualification in England. 

Natalia Zinchenko’s side looked rocked after losing their three games of the campaign — the embarrassment of back-to-back 8-0 hammerings by Germany compounded by a shock 3-2 loss in Dublin.

With those three most difficult qualifiers put to bed, however, they gradually regained their qualification hopes by beating Montenegro and Greece.

Winnable rematches against those nations await them after Friday’s duel against Ireland— which for both is the most pivotal of the campaign.

“Ireland have done well in the campaign but I am convinced that we have identified their weaknesses by the time we meet them,” warned Zinchenko.

"Yes, we have to play Greece next week but all we are thinking of is beating Ireland. It is a must-win game for us."

For Ireland to accomplish their mission in the Ukrainian capital, quietening Daria Apanashchenko is the priority.

The attacker is the most renowned Ukrainian footballer of her generation, scoring for Russian outfit Zvezda Perm in the 2009 Champions League, and showed in the recent 4-0 thumping of Greece that she still carries a potent threat at 34.

Pauw has namechecked the captain as one for her team to monitor but also Nicole Kozlova. The Canadian-born striker came off the bench against the Greeks to bag a brace. 

Fellow attacker Olga Ovdiychuk, despite failing to spark at Spanish giants Atletico Madrid last season, is another potential match-winner in the hosts’ ranks.

Pauw said: “Ovdiychuk is Ukraine’s key striker. She has the speed to make use of space behind defenders.

“Kozlova, if she starts, can also be dangerous. She finds the right positions and wins free-kicks.

“Apanashchenko is the one who links everybody together. We’re just not sure what position she will play.

“For the first match in Dublin a year ago, they put her further back but we expect it to be different this time.”

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