Ukraine Survives On Penalty Kicks, Edges Swiss

COLOGNE, Germany -- After 120 minutes of soccer between Ukraine and Switzerland couldn't produce a goal, the game had to be decided by penalty kicks. Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin couldn't take it any more.

Ukraine players surround goalkeeper Oleksander Shovkovsky after the penalty shootout of the second round World Cup 2006 match between Switzerland and Ukraine in Cologne, June 26, 2006.

So he left. As his team went back on the field for soccer's flip-of-the-coin process for determining a winner, Blokhin headed for the dressing room at Rheinenergie Stadion.

"A penalty shootout is like Russian roulette," he said later. "For 120 minutes, I had to watch the game. (The shootout) was too much to take."

At least Blokhin could take refuge from his nerves. There was no hiding for the Swiss players who took their team's penalty shots. In a dismal performance that their coach attributed to "nerves," three Swiss players went to the spot and three Swiss players missed, a gallingly bad success rate. Two of the kicks were little more than dribblers that hit Ukrainian goalie Oleksandr Shovkovskyi. The other slammed off the bar.

When Ukraine's Oleg Gusev went to the left corner while Swiss goalie Pascal Zuberbuehler dived the other way to give Ukraine a 3-0 win on penalty kicks, the Ukrainian players exploded in glee while the Swiss players stood in shock. Five minutes after the game, while Ukrainian players danced in a circle around their flag at the other end of the field, Zuberbuehler stood hunched over in front of the goal. "The emotions overwhelm you after such an event," Shovkovskyi said.

Ukraine's Blokhin said: "I don't really know what to say to be honest. How shall I put what's going through my head? How shall I find the words?"

Ukraine is now the unlikeliest team in the tournament's final eight and will face Italy on Friday in Hamburg for a spot in the semifinals. Meanwhile, Switzerland was eliminated despite not allowing a goal in four games.

"There is an emptiness now," said Swiss coach Kobi Kuhn, who was firmly rooted on his bench long after the game had ended. "I'm not thinking very much about the match. . . . Right now, there is a very big disappointment, a feeling of emptiness which keeps me from giving much thought to he match."

There was a feeling of emptiness for many of the 45,000 fans, who frequently whistled in derision at the uninspired play on the field. While the two coaches talked of the level of play, whatever subtleties they saw were lost on most everyone else.

Ukraine is having a bit of a revival after starting the tournament by getting a 4-0 pasting from Spain. They followed that with a 4-0 win over Saudi Arabia and then secured passage with an uninspiring 1-0 win over Tunisia. For the team touted in some circles as an underdog to go deep in the tournament, Ukraine, along with star forward Andriy Shevchenko, has been a major disappointment. But history will record Ukraine, taking part in its first major international tournament, is one of the final eight teams.

"I think nobody really had confidence in us," Blokhin said. "Most people had written us off. Some thought we had played like beginners, especially against Tunisia. There was harsh criticism of our tactics. Tonight, you see we can play good, high quality, football."

That "high quality football" produced few scoring chances for either team. Shevchenko put a header off a free kick off the crossbar in the 20th minute. Swiss striker Alexander Frei hit a curving free kick three minutes later that also caught the crossbar. In the second half, Andriy Gusin was just wide with a header off a corner kick. As regulation ended, whistling was the predominant sound in the stadium.

Finally, the game went to penalty kicks. Shevchenko took the first shot and it hit it neither far enough from the center or hard enough to get past Zuberbuehler, whose save left the Swiss giddy. ("Shevchenko missed?" Blokhin said afterward. "I did not know.") But Marco Streller did the exact same thing Shevchenko did, and the shootout was even.

Ukraine's Artem Milevskiy faked out Zuberbuehler, tapping a slow roller up the middle while the keeper dived to his right. Tranquilo Barnetta rocketed a shot off the bar and Serhiy Rebov followed for Ukraine with a blast to his right that made it 2-0. When Ricardo Cabanas' shot went into Shovkovskyi's body, the scene was set for Gusev. He went to far left corner, and Ukraine advanced.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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