“I'm still feeling a bit heavy after the long flight. All those changes of time zone have meant I'm not in top condition.”
Out of context, this self-assessment sounds like the excuse of someone who has had a bad day at the office. But coming from Valerii Luchkevych, a man who helped transform Ukraine from a team lacking cutting edge to one operating with surgical precision, it makes you wonder what's still in the locker. If helping orchestrate a six-goal second-half avalanche against Myanmar is him operating without firing on all cylinders, fans are in for a treat when he's fully operational.
Following the goalless draw with New Zealand in the opening game of the FIFA U-20 World Cup it was evident that the Eastern Europeans were short of that extra spark going forward - the cog to get the watch moving in unison. The only problem that day was that wasn't even in the same country as his team-mates.
Just over two days before the tournament kicked off, Luchkevych had sat on the bench in Warsaw at the UEFA Europa League final. Sadly for the Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk winger, his side fell to a 3-2 loss against Sevilla, meaning his trip south wasn't undertaken on a post-victory high. But aside from a bit of jet-lag, he insists there is no cup final hangover.
“Of course it was a real disappointment to see us lose in Warsaw,” he told FIFA.com. “But I knew I was flying to New Zealand so I've put it behind me and it won't be on my mind while I'm out here.”
Luchkevych touched down at half-time in the match with the Junior All Whites and agreed with coach Oleksandr Petrakov that he would have to wait until half-time against Myanmar to make his World Cup bow. But his impact was almost instantaneous. After providing a helping hand for the opening goal shortly after his introduction, he truly announced himself three minutes later with a delightful chip over Myo Min Latt. When complimented on the quality of that finish, the bashful 19-year-old from Zaporizhia could only muster a smile and an embarrassed laugh.
On the field, though, his feet did plenty of talking. It took just another three minutes for him to sparkle again, bursting through the middle and firing in a shot, the rebound from which was tucked away by Kovalenko. It capped off a gobsmacking six minutes of fluid football, after a frustrating goalless two hours, and goalkeeper Bohdan Sarnavskyi took advantage of a moment of inaction to run upfield to hug Luchkevych. “He knew we had won at that point,” the midfielder explained.
The winger's work wasn't done though, as a delightful pirouette inside the area saw him set up Artem Bieseidin for their fifth. He should have had a brace of goals to go with his pair of assists too, but after he dancing around Min Latt his goal-bound shot was beaten off the line by the arm of Thiha Htet Aung. Nonetheless, he was simply happy to have made his mark. “It's great to know I was able to come on and improve the team,” he said. “Goals, assists, they're all the same to me if we finish the game on top.”
He paints an image of a squad bound by friendship, and with the width he provides serving to stretch opponents, his team-mates should have space to flourish in their final Group A match against USA. “A result like this is always going to leave you feeling confident going into the next match. We will just keep trying to get the wins and see how far it takes us.”
With a few more good nights of sleep, Ukraine may have Luchkevych at his peak. Then, who knows what they can achieve?