Ukraine Hoping For Unforgettable Sheva Goodbye
KIEV, Ukraine -- Already drawn into Group D as top seed, Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine will take some comfort in knowing that they will at least avoid 2010 World Cup finalists Spain and the Netherlands in the draw Friday.
However, the cautiously optimistic nation could well face a fascinating tussle with old rivals Germany, Russia or Italy, who knocked them out in the quarter-finals of Germany 2006 in Ukraine's only other major tournament appearance.
It could be good news for the former Soviet Republic that there are many echoes of five years ago in the team.
The familiar blue and yellow side are again coached by icon Oleg Blokhin, a former European Player of the Year, and it is a team built around some of the same players from that success at Germany 2006.
National icon, captain and all-time leading scorer, Andriy Shevchenko is still hoping to lead the line up front despite a lingering back injury.
At 35 years old, 'Sheva' is at the tail end of a long career that included a European Player of the Year award of his own in 2004 and almost half a century of goals in 105 international appearances.
Being drawn against Italy might be a particularly sentimental outcome for player that peaked in his success at AC Milan.
Shevchenko's status within the Ukraine squad is almost matched by all-time cap leader Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, who has found a new lease on life at Bayern Munich and anchors the midfield, which also can call on familiar faces like Serhiy Nazarenko, Andriy Voronin and Oleg Husyev.
Blokhin and his team have made it clear that they intend to get out of the opening group in front of their home fans, so the 55th-ranked team in the world will be watching the draw closely and hoping to avoid as many giants as possible.
'We have bigger goals, but our first target must be to qualify for the knockout round,' said Blokhin, who returned to the post in April after a spell away from coaching.
'Our job is to win Euro 2012, but we must move one step at a time.'
After losing a national team record four matches on the trot, Blokhin's team have recovered their confidence in the last two months to beat Bulgaria, Estonia and Austria and draw with an in-form Germany 3-3.