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 at the showcase event following a successful qualifying campaign in a difficult group.
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 but above Portugal and Northern Ireland. 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 with the task of leading his country to Germany, which he did with style.
The undoubted ace in his pack is undoubtedly Andriy Shevchenko, AC Milan's prodigious goal-getter and 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.
Ukraine have taken part in two previous preliminary competitions, losing only in the play-offs. In 1997 the Ukrainian national team were beaten by Croatia 2-0 and 1-1.
Four years later they lost the crucial decider 4-1 to the eventual 2002 FIFA World Cup™ runners-up Germany. They had finished the group phase in second place behind Poland and were unlucky to draw Germany, undoubtedly the strongest team in the play-offs.
Ukraine's best wins came in 1998 and 1999. In 1998 they beat Georgia 4-0 and a year later defeated Andorra by the same margin. Their heaviest defeat came in 1995 when they lost to Croatia 4-0.