After two near-misses in FIFA World Cup qualifying, Ukraine have booked a place in the 2006 edition of the tournament in commanding fashion. Coach Oleg Blokhin and his men were the first Europeans after hosts Germany to book a place.

After the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union and subsequent founding of the Football Federation of Ukraine, the Ukraine national team first entered a preliminary stage for a FIFA World Cup finals in 1996/97 ahead of the 1998 finals in France. The eastern Europeans’ first attempt ended with them placed second in their group behind Germany. They subsequently lost to Croatia in the play-offs and failed to make it to France, and there was a repeat performance before Korea/ Japan 2002 when they went down in the play-offs again, this time to Germany.

After failing to qualify for UEFA EURO 2004, former Soviet international and 1975 European Footballer of the Year Blokhin succeeded Leonid Buryak. The undoubted ace in his pack is undoubtedly Andriy Shevchenko, the East Europeans’ one truly world-class striker. Ukraine’s fortunes rise and fall in tandem with the form of the 2004 European Footballer of the Year. Shevchenko is ably supported up front by Shakhtar Donetsk hitman Andriy Vorobey and Andrey Voronin of Bayer Leverkusen in a three-pronged attack bristling with menace.