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Northern Ireland set for summer reunion with Ukraine


Gareth McAuley finds the net against Ukraine

Gareth McAuley finds the net against Ukraine

Gareth McAuley finds the net against Ukraine

Northern Ireland are set for a summer reunion with a team they famously defeated at the Euro 2016 finals.

The men in green are scheduled for a long flight across eastern Europe to Kiev to play Andriy Shevchenko's Ukraine on Tuesday, June 2 - a pre-Euro 2020 warm-up clash.

The Ukrainian Football Federation have officially announced the friendly game at the 70,000 capacity Olympic Stadium on their website - one of three home matches for the Yellow and Blues prior to the finals - but Irish FA officials insist the contracts are still to be signed, however, they are confident that is just a formality.

Ukraine qualified for the Euro 2020 finals after topping Group B with six wins from eight games — including a victory and a draw against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. They also hammered Serbia 5-0 in the Lviv Arena at the start of qualifying.

Ukraine won all their home games in qualifying — only dropping points away to Portugal and Serbia.

Northern Ireland won the last meeting between the two sides on an incredible night for Michael O’Neill’s men in Lyon at the Euro 2016 finals.

Having lost their opening game of the tournament to Poland, Northern Ireland hit back in style, dominating the match against Ukraine and winning 2-0 through goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn.

Both teams had to weather a hail storm that stopped proceedings for a period of time and Ukraine’s star performers, including Andriy Yarmolenko, were well marshalled by the Northern Ireland defence with Jonny Evans (right) in particular a class act.

Northern Ireland last played in Ukraine 17 years ago when they drew 0-0 in Donetsk during a Euro qualifier when Sammy McIlroy was the international manager. The men in green also drew 0-0 during the first game between the sides at Windsor Park the previous year.

The Irish FA are currently working on a home friendly in June, but the opposition may depend on whether Northern Ireland reach the Euro finals.

It’s likely though that even if Northern Ireland don’t reach the finals, they will still have to play at least two international friendly games at the end of May, start of June.

Sunday Life Sport understands the Irish FA are not keen to pre-arrange a friendly clash for Windsor Park should Northern Ireland fail to get past Bosnia and Herzegovina in the play-off clash in Zenica on March 26. They realise there would be little appetite for a match — as defeat in Bosnia would be a crushing blow, having come so close to qualification.

Michael O’Neill would no longer be the manager as he is only contracted for the competitive play-off matches and therefore he would be back at Stoke.

The players would be in no mood to play a meaningless match and, on a Tuesday night, it’s unlikely a big crowd would turn out making it a financial flop.

However UEFA stipulate nations should endeavour to play games in international windows, but the IFA will hope that, by arranging at least two games in June, this will meet their quota.

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Belfast Telegraph