Ukraine Must Repeat First-Match Magic To Qualify

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine have a mountain to climb to beat England and reach the Euro 2012 quarter-finals after a 2-0 defeat by France exposed a creaking defence which will be sorely tested by striker Wayne Rooney's return from suspension.

Ukraine's coach Oleg Blokhin gestures during their Group D Euro 2012 soccer match against France at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

The co-hosts must aim for an early goal and then shut out England - re-energised by a thrilling 3-2 win over Sweden - if they are to shake off the Donetsk curse next Tuesday and get the three points they need to progress from Group D.

Coach Oleg Blokhin said his side would get a serious talking to after failing to rediscover the style against the French that brought them a stirring 2-1 victory over Sweden in their opener.

Sporting websites ran headlines such as "France brings Ukraine down to earth" while a popular football site said: "The illusion of this team having great powers has been shattered practically to its foundations."

Some commentators said Blokhin, who tends to swap out defenders in pairs rather than individually, might bring in Yaroslav Rakitsky and Oleksander Kucher for Taras Mykhalyk and Evhen Khacheridi to try to hold England's forwards in check.

Midfielders Andriy Yarmolenko and Evhen Konoplyanka were targeted by local pundits for below-par performances, while Oleh Gusyev was criticised for being at fault for France midfielder Yohan Cabaye's 56th minute goal which sealed Ukraine's fate.

"To beat England we need to improve," said striker Andriy Shevchenko, two-goal hero of the victory over Sweden.

"They are not easy rivals and they pose a special threat from set pieces - free kicks and corners," he added.

Shevchenko, who played in the English Premier League for Chelsea, took heart from the hope that Rooney, likely to return to the starting lineup after his ban, might be stale.


Ukraine, who trail France and England by a point, know anything other than a win will knock them out of the tournament and their fortunes will come down in the end to how well Shevchenko and company perform in front of goal.

In Friday's match, after a 55-minute interruption because of torrential rain, the hosts tore into France but Shevchenko, though he put in two rasping shots, was unable to wreak the same havoc that he did against the shaky Swedish defence.

"The situation is not completely lost. But now we don't have anywhere to retreat to - we can only fall back on victory over England," said midfielder Anatoly Tymoshchuk.

"I don't like the fact that the team stopped playing after conceding the second goal. If some players thought they were already in the quarter-finals, they were wrong," added Blokhin.

"No doubt, we will have a serious talk. Many of them understood the Euro is not at domestic championship level. Here you have to show your best qualities in each game," he said.

Ukraine are also up against the form book.

They have now failed to win any of the four matches they have played at Donetsk's space-age Donbass Arena stadium where they will meet England next Tuesday.

Blokhin on Friday complained that Ukrainian supporters jeered and booed in the final stages against France.

That and the apocalyptic nature of Friday's downpour added to the impression that the stadium is becoming a cursed venue for them.

"Whistle at me if you like, but not at the players," Blokhin said in defence of his team.

"They are trying their best."

However, one opinion poll indicated Ukrainians were more optimistic than the booing suggested.

The Segodnya newspaper site said that out of 350 people polled, 42 percent believed Ukraine would win, 36 percent expected a draw while 18 percent said England would triumph.

Source: Chicago Tribune