Party Time For Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- World Cup debutants Ukraine embark into uncharted waters after securing their first successful qualifying campaign from a difficult group that included European champions Greece, 2002 World Cup semi-finals Turkey and experienced Denmark.

Ukraine’s coach Oleg Blokhin

Only affiliated to FIFA in 1992 following the break-up of the Soviet Union, the country is fairly new to the footballing stage but their progress has been sharp and they are coached by 1975 European Footballer of the Year Oleg Blokhin.

Another Ballon d'Or winner Andrei Shevchenko is the jewel in the crown and the AC Milan marksman gives his side both individual talent and deadly goal-scoring skills.

Blokhin likes to use a three-man attack led by Shevchenko but the team also possess a stingy defence having only conceded seven goals in 12 qualifying matches.

The key results that led to Germany were a 3-0 battering of Turkey in Istanbul, a narrow 1-0 win over the Danes and finally the cornerstone 1-0 win over Greece in Athens that effectively sealed their passage.

Ironically during qualifying for Euro 2004, they finished behind group winners Greece while Spain were seven points ahead.

Until 2006, the closest the team that came to reaching a major tournament was the Euro 2000 squad that finished second behind France and then fell in the play-offs in the cruellest of manners against Slovenia.

Ukraine were the first team from Europe to book their ticket to Germany which displayed the efficiency of their campaign and now maintain a golden chance to reach the knockout phase having been drawn in one of the weaker groups.

With no disrespect to Spain, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, the opportunity for Blokhin and his players to go through is gaping despite their lack of experience.

Source: AFP