Wales’ gamble to take a pre-Euro 2016 fixture in Ukraine backfired as they slipped to a 1-0 defeat.
Manager Chris Coleman had admitted before heading out to Kiev that the game was a “risk” with this being Wales’ penultimate match before the tournament in France.
Momentum before Wales’ first major tournament appearance for 58 years is in short supply now; it is only one win in their last six games – and that was against one of the whipping boys of European football, Andorra.
Andriy Yarmolenko’s first-half effort proved enough against Wales, who were once again without key players Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey as Coleman set up his side with the summer’s Euro 2016 group game against Russia very much in mind. Ukraine will also be at Euro 2016 in the same group as Germany, Poland and Northern Ireland and the size of Wales’ task was summed up by the fact they had lost only two of their previous 15 matches, both against reigning European champions Spain.
The game had hardly caught the imagination of the Ukrainian public, the 70,000-Olympic Stadium less than a third full and those that had turned up had little to be excited about in the opening exchanges.
Wales created the first chance after 13 minutes when Tom Lawrence latched onto Chris Gunter’s ball from the right and his attempt was helped over the crossbar by Andrei Pyatov.
There was little rhythm to the contest with so many free-kicks being conceded, Denys Garmash perhaps the unfortunate recipient of a yellow card as Ukraine had appeared to foul on a rota basis.
Ukraine had barely featured as an attacking force in the opening 28 minutes with their star man Yarmolenko, the Dynamo Kiev forward, cutting a frustrated figure on the right flank. But all that changed when Wales conceded a free-kick 35 yards out in a central position and Ukraine skipper Ruslan Rotan lined up as if to shoot. But he instead floated the ball over the Wales wall and Yarmolenko made a difficult skill look simple, meeting the dropping ball with a sweet half-volley which goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey helped into the corner of the net.
Ukraine’s threat was always greater when Yarmolenko had the ball at his feet, but Wales generally kept him quiet and Lawrence and Emyr Huws were off-target with efforts either side of half-time.
Allen then advanced into a shooting position from 30 yards out and Pyatov punched clear, though it was hardly done in convincing fashion.
But Wales’ Achilles heel, notably their difficulty defending set-pieces, almost hurt them again after 58 minutes. Oleksandr Kucher met another precise Rotan free-kick from 14 yards out, but the ball fell just wide of the far post with Hennessey scrambling across his goal.
Yarmolenko sensed a chance to wrap up the game when James Chester’s clearance ricocheted into his path, but substitute Adam Henley showed good pace to win the ball with a sliding tackle.
Wales might have snatched a draw when Pyatov was called into action twice after Vokes had planted a header wide from Bradshaw’s flick-on.
First, Pyatov shovelled out Jazz Richards’ shot for a corner, then clutched Shaun MacDonald’s header from the resulting corner as Ukraine held on for victory.