Ukraine Nurses Hopes Of Recovering At World Cup Ahead Of Playing Saudi Arabia

HAMBURG, Germany -- Ukraine arrived at the World Cup as many people’s dark horses but a 4-0 drubbing by Spain has left them doubting themselves as they languish at the bottom of Group H ahead of Monday’s game with Saudi Arabia, Reuters reports.

Andriy Shevchenko (C) and Ukraine’s national soccer team players

Led by former European Footballer of the Year Andriy Shevchenko and strike partner Andriy Voronin, the eastern Europeans were the continent’s first to qualify from a group including Turkey, Denmark and Euro 2004 champions Greece.

Yet they looked helpless against a rampant Spain in Leipzig on Wednesday, with Shevchenko a shadow of his usual self given his lack of match fitness after a month out with a knee injury.

They are without experienced central defender Vladislav Vashchyuk after a red card against Spain and unless Shevchenko can find his touch fast they may struggle to beat a Saudi team heartened by an opening draw against Tunisia.

“Every moment on the field during the Spain match I was striving to rediscover my form,” the striker, who has just left AC Milan for Chelsea, told reporters on Friday.

“I felt better after the game but I still need match practice. I think every one of us understands we have to start again from scratch.”

Ukraine midfielder Oleg Gusev is a doubtful starter with a knee injury, while Saudi skipper Sami Al Jaber, who scored in the 2-2 draw with Tunisia, has shaken off a thigh problem and is expected to play.

The World Cup is Ukraine’s first since it won independence and threw off three centuries of Russian domination in 1991.

It is also a welcome distraction from weeks of post-election wrangling by parties that backed the 2004 Orange Revolution but have since proved unable to form a stable government.

After qualifying, coach and former Soviet striker Oleg Blokhin even built up hopes that the team could even win the tournament but their beating by Spain crushed those high expectations amid a tide of media abuse back home.

“Even given the score, (the loss to Spain) is not necessarily a negative thing,” suggested Shevchenko.

“I said before that a good result for us is to make it out of the group. And that is what we are continuing to aim at.”

Spain lead Group H with three points and can qualify if they beat Tunisia in Stuttgart on Monday, leaving the others to fight it out for second spot and a place in the last 16.

A point against Tunisia somewhat redeemed Saudi Arabia for an embarrassing first round exit at the last finals, where they conceded 12 goals and failed to score in three straight defeats.

Victory against Ukraine would take them within touching distance of a place in the second round, which would equal their best result at a finals achieved in 1994.

Coach Marcos Paqueta said: “It will be vital that we keep Shevchenko and Voronin quiet. We’d still be alive if we draw but with Spain to play in the last game we need to win this game if we want to advance.”

Source: MosNews