Slovenia 1-1 Ukraine (1-3 on aggregate): Ukrainians hold off home fightback to qualify for France 2016
(photo: yahoo)

It will be Ukraine who will be joining Europe's leading football nations at next summer's European championships after a 1-1 draw in Maribor.

Leading 2-0 from the first leg, Ukraine were clear favourites to get through but this didn't dishearten Slovenia who put in a strong attacking display from the offset.

Slovenia get back in the tie

The momentum of the tie swung hugely with just 11 minutes on the clock, when Slovenia captain Bostjan Cesar, who plays in Serie A for Chievo, headed in from close range to the delight of the home fans. It was game on and there was a sense of urgency from Slovenia, Particularly through playmaker Valter Birsa. Ukraine looked rattled as Slovenia pressed for another goal which would equalise the score on aggregate.

Full blooded affair

It was definitley a game in which all the players wore their heart on their sleeve and tackles were flying in. Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir brandished a total of six yellow cards and one red card. The red card came for Slovenia full back Miso Brecko, for a high tackle as frustrations grew deeper as Slovenia couldn't find that elusive second goal. They did did come close to levelling the tie when Nejc Pecnik's fierce drive cannoned back off Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov to safety.

Second half onslaght

At the start of the second half, it was one way traffic as Ukraine were on the front foot after the break. Following up from just before half time where Samir Handanovic did well to keep out dangerous Ukraine winger Yehven Konoplyanka, he thwarted him again after the interval with a smart save, also keeping out Yarmolenko where as full back Yaroslav Rakitskiy came close with a brilliant volley. Slovenia then came back into it and were brilliantly denied an equaliser by Pyatov as Cesar was left unmarked but Pyatov somehow denied him to the relief of the away side.

Ukraine level up late on

Naturally, as Slovenia pushed to no avail, frustrations grew and some Slovenian fans threw flares into the Ukraine penalty area, to the dismay of the players. There were a flurry of corners for the home side, but none came to any fruition and then Brecko recieved his marching orders for a reckless high tackle on Konoplyanka. As Slovenia committed men forward they left gaps in defence, as Dortmund winger Kevin Kampl slipped allowing a three man counter atttack which resulted in Yarmolenko finishing to the delight of his team mates.

It will be the first European Championships Ukraine have ever qualified for, after they recieved automatic qualification in 2012 through being the hosts of the tournament.