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By Martyn Herman

DUSSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) – Ukraine revived their hopes of reaching the 2024 European Championships, coming from behind to beat Slovakia 2-1 in a thrilling Group E match on Friday with a late goal from substitute Roman Yaremchuk.

At halftime, the Ukrainians were behind thanks to an early goal from Ivan Schranz and their hopes were hanging by a thread, but they managed a stormy comeback in front of cheering fans.

Slovakia, who shocked Belgium in their opening match, would have secured a place in the round of 16 with a win, but after a dream start the team paid the price for their hesitation.

Mykola Shaparenko equalised with a close-range finish in the 54th minute before they secured an important win when Yaremchuk controlled a high pass from Shaparenko and fired the ball past Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.

With the win, Ukraine moved level on three points with Slovakia and Romania, who face Belgium on Saturday.

As at the 2020 European Championship, Slovakia won its opening match impressively against Belgium. However, three years ago Slovakia was eliminated in the group stage.

They began the game against Ukraine with a clear determination to avoid a repeat and dominated the first few moves on the pitch in Düsseldorf, which was lashed by pre-match rain.

Ukrainian goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin, one of five substitutes in the Ukrainian team that lost 3-0 to Romania, kept his team level with saves in quick succession, including a shot by Lukas Haraslin and a shot by Schranz from close range.

However, Slovakia were rewarded for their positive start in the 17th minute when Schranz headed in Haraslin's measured cross at the far post. This was his second goal of the tournament, having already scored the winner against Belgium.

While their tournament hopes looked as bleak as the skies over Düsseldorf, Ukraine finally came to life.

Mykhailo Mudryk fired a shot high over the bar, a better effort was blocked by Slovakian defender Peter Pekarik, before right-back Oleksandr Tymchyk hammered a sliding low shot against the post without beating goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.

Dubravka then had to be on his guard to save a free kick from Oleksandr Zinchenko. At the other end, Slovakia threatened to double their lead with a counterattack, but Trubin saved a shot from Haraslin well.

Ukraine started the second half on the offensive and Artem Dovbyk, La Liga's top scorer last season, failed to direct a cross from Mudryk towards the goal.

The increasing pressure from the Ukrainians, who were kicking towards their yellow and blue-clad fans, paid off a minute later when the unmarked Shaparenko was played in by a clever pass from Zinchenko and calmly shot the ball into the corner with his left foot.

Slovakia seemed to be content with the point, but were lucky when Mudryk hit the post with a shot from a tight angle 15 minutes from time.

Ukraine then gave it their all and Yaremchuk was picked by the excellent Shaparenko to send the war-torn nation into their final group match full of hope.

(Report by Martyn Herman)

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