The track record of face-to-face meetings with Valky Youth Sports School in the U17 age group has been rather disappointing for Phoenix. Of the nine matches, we only managed one win - as part of the Ukrainian Championship U15 qualification two years ago. All the other eight were won by the Valkovites. Those include the last year final of the summer futsal tournament (0:4), the semifinals of the Kharkiv Open Championship 2020/21 (1:3) and the match for the 3rd place in the Chernomorsk Cup U16 last summer (2:5). All this made today's Ukrainian Cup semi-final even more important for Serhii Hrytsenko and Yurii Vaschenko’s team.
The derby of the Kharkiv Oblast in the semi-final of the Cup of Ukraine could deservedly be claimed to become a gem of the tournament. Valky Youth Sports School has undoubtedly been one of the most difficult rivals for Phoenix, but Viktor Detyuk - the coach of the Valkovites – was reasonably on his guard against the violets. Indeed, Phoenix got through the group stage of the Cup without any loss of points, having managed three wins, while the Valkovites lost in one of the matches to Urahan (Hurricane) from Ivano-Frankivsk. Compared to the first semifinal, where the same Hurricane beat Lviv Kopa in a one-sided game, in this match, futsal fans had reason to expect a more equal and uncompromising struggle.
Both teams approached the head-to-head confrontation without losses in the line-up, except for Roman Koverya, who was seriously injured before the start of the tournament. Attentive viewers, familiar with the coaches' approaches, might have guessed that the choice of the squad for this game would be different from the usual one. In all previous meetings with the Valkovites, the factor of physical struggle was of decisive importance, which means we couldn’t lose in that aspect today. That is why Phoenix’ coaches moved away from the usual two four-player squads, swapping the players one by one as they were ready. Lazeba, Khodatsky, Bodnar, Yevsyukov and Shevchenko appeared on the court at the start. For the Valkovites, one should have expected the active one first four-player squad: Naku - at the goalmouth, Kodenko, Tkachev, Kobzar and Sirotenko - in the field.
From the very first minutes on the court, a bitter strife began on both sides. Phoenix gave up the initiative, allowing the opponent to possess the ball and deliver long-range shots, but only from a long distance: the compact defense of the violets would not let the Valki team get close to our goal. In turn, in attack, Phoenix tried to play wide and deep, stretching the defense of the opposition on the curtailed court. The first part of the half went according to a monotonous scenario: Lazeba cleaning up a few flaws of the defenders and saving long-range shots and Naku handling Phoenix' counterattacks. The teams exchanged the most dangerous moments in minute five: Ivan Konkov hit the post, and in the return attack, Matvii Kodenko's kick hit the crossbar. In general, though, despite the more modest size of the players and a lower average age, Phoenix was in no way inferior to the representative of the Youth Extra-League and even surpassed it in the number of dangerous moments.
The key moment of the match, undoubtedly, was the lucky Maksym Dolhulia entering the court. Having just stepped on the parquet, Phoenix’s forward managed to excel. Demyd Yevsyukov’s diagonal cross found Mykyta Bodnar, the Kharkiv winger managed a through ball and in the strife against Dolhulia Matvii Kodenko scored the ball into his own goal, opening the scoring. Viktor Detyuk, who had made no changes so far, made the first substitutions, but that did not change the game pattern significantly. Phoenix continued to play compactly in defense, having borrowed the Valky tactics in attack: longballs at Artem Shevchenko, who was trying to possess the ball in the penalty area of the opposition.
Mykyta Bodnar and Danylo Khodatskyi got their chances, but Anatolii Naku defended his goal flawlessly. This continued until Dolhulia stepped into the court for the second time. The scorer’s intuition prompted Maksym the position on the left flank of the attack, where Ivan Konkov rolled the ball with his heel after the turmoil in the penalty area, and on the second attempt Dolhulia slotted past Naku. Moreover, a couple of minutes later Maksym made a double.
After a time-out, immediately taken by Viktor Detyuk, Epifantsev, Bratenko, Burukhin and Lisovin appeared on the court. The opposition managed to implement several dangerous moments: Lisovin went one on one with Lazeba, Naku trying to lob the ball over the goalkeeper from his half of the court, but the score remained unchanged.
The second half of the match began with Khodatskyi’s dangerous kick: the ball ‘licked’ the crossbar, but went above the goal net. Bodnar and Shevchenko played one-two getting close to the penalty area, but the defenders blocked the first kick. Syrotenko’s long-range shot hit Lazeba and Kodenko shot above the goal net. The Valky team increased the pressure and our defenders and the goalkeeper began to err more often. Syrotenko’s through ball was close to being turned home by Kobzar. Finally, in the middle of the half, Danylo Syrotenko managed to shoot into the far corner of the goal, and the score was 3:1.
The goal conceded seemed to be the catalyst for open play from both teams. Shevchenko robbed the defender off the ball, but sent a narrow angle shot at Naku. In a non-game moment Kodenko and Khodatskyi appeared to be at odds over something both receiving a yellow card. Shevchenko rolled the ball to Yevsyukov in a perfect manner but Demyd's kick hit the post. In a return attack, Syrotenko ‘checked the endurance’ of Lazeba's goal post. Tkachev tried to do a bicycle kick in the penalty area but was inaccurate. Bratenko was running dangerously in a counterattack, but Lazeba saved his kick.
It seemed that the double-edged play was more into the hands of the Valky players as they finally started to get something out of the attacks. But the players of Valky Youth Sports School, lulled by their own advantage, overlooked Mykyta Bodnar, who ran in on the right flank, received a pass from Khodatskyi and sent the ball to the center of the penalty area, where Shevchenko, forgotten by the defenders, easily hit Naku's goal. The score 4:1 did not last long and was changed due to the efforts of active Tkachev: his shot came out weak, but Demyd Yevsyukov was on the ball line, disorienting Lazeba.
In the return attack, the Kharkivites restored the status quo: Demyd Yevsyukov took the ball on the right flank and rolled it to Ivan Konkov, running in, who outplayed the goalkeeper. With the score being 5:2 the teams could have excelled more than once. Demyd Yevsyukov assisted his team mates twice from the left flank, but failed to deliver an effective kick. Having hit Khodatskyi, Kodenko was close to scooping the ball into his own net.
There were some moments at Phoenix’ net. At first Epifantsev found himself with his back to the goalkeeper, but failed to turn round and kick accurately. And when, after Naku's longball, the ball changed direction, hitting Khodatskyi, it seemed that the goal could not be avoided, but Lazeba pulled the ball out of the far corner of the goal in a desperate jump. Finally, Tkachev had a highly dangerous moment, bursting into the penalty area, but shooting past the net.
To bring down the attacking spirit of Valkovites, Phoenix’s coaches took a minute break. After the time-out, new faces appeared on the court: Eldar Bratchuk took the place at the goalmouth and Mykhailo Soldatenko and Danylo Zamula entered the court. Valki spent the last three minutes in attacks, but the defenders and the goalkeeper played flawlessly, keeping a comfortable lead until the very final whistle. Siren informed the players and fans about the end of the match that Kharkiv Phoenix became the second finalist of the Ukrainian Cup and the rival of Ivano-Frankivsk Urahan.
Tomorrow in the final match our team will face the most difficult opponent possible in the U17 age group. Urahan is the undisputed leader of the Extra Youth League, which has been lacking competition this season. In addition, four players of the Ivano-Frankivsk team defend the colors of the Ukrainian representative youth futsal team.
The Ukrainian U17 Cup has received the final that is as futsal in style as it gets, which we hope will please everyone who decides to follow it. The matchup starts at 10:20.