Ukraine Euro 2012 Focus - Blokhin feeling the tension in winner takes all encounter
Ukraine’s mission is simple - win. Any other result against England would mean that the co-hosts would be joining Poland in an early exit from Euro 2012, with the Three Lions advancing to the quarter-finals along with France. That will be easier said than done having suffered defeat to Les Bleus in their last game as well as now sweating on the fitness of their talisman and captain Andrei Shevchenko.
Blokhin will give the nation’s all-time top goal-scorer right until a few hours before kick-off to prove his fitness, in what could very well be his last game of professional football. A swollen knee is the cause of a nation’s anxiety, and his chances of being able to start in Donetsk are rated as 50-50. So much pressure rests on the shoulders of the 35-year-old and he will be desperate to play, but Blokhin has shown frustration at the media’s obsession over whether he will start.
“The chances on Shevchenko are 50-50,” Yahoo Sports quoted Blokhin as saying. “There’s no other striker who’s so good in Ukraine. I think if he’s not able to play it will be a big loss for us. I understand he’s a great player and it’s probably the last European Championship for him, but I really cannot say more.
“I can’t only think about Shevchenko as I have other options. It doesn’t look good in front of my players if I talk only about Shevchenko, his career and his private life. I have 22 other players. Stop asking about Shevchenko. The subject is closed.”
Ultimately, it will be down to the captain to say whether or not he is able to play, but Roy Hodgson’s men must be aware of other threats that the Zbirna can pose. Joe Hart has had a fantastic start to Euro 2012 but he has still conceded three goals in two games. Two of those were against bottom of the group Sweden who are already out of the tournament and are yet to even register a point.
Andrei Yarmolenko and Yevgen Konoplyanka can cause Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole all kinds of problems down the flanks as Ukraine will look to play wide and counter-attack at every available opportunity. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, the hard-tackling midfielder that protects the defence, will likely be asked to track the returning Wayne Rooney to ensure that the Manchester United star does not spoil the party.
Blokhin has played down the significance of Rooney’s return, pointing out that England have more than just one ace up their sleeve. Sweden Super-sub Theo Walcott is a doubt for the winner-takes-all clash, and it will be interesting to see if Hodgson plays for a draw or goes for the win. Should England top the group then they will meet four-time World Cup winners Italy in the next round. If they finish second, then they will face the reigning World and European Champions Spain.
A win for Ukraine would not only secure their passage to the knock-out stages, but should France fail to beat the Swedes, it could even see them top the group. The match has been billed by striker Andrei Voronin as the most important in Ukraine’s history, and although Blokhin is feeling the pressure, according to the Daily Telegraph he believes that England will be too.
“The England team will be more nervous. They are one of the favourites and are expected to play in the final. The pressure is on them. Our approach to the game is more relaxed.
“Nobody expects that we will fly to the moon. The fans should expect good play but we shouldn’t say to our nation we’ll win the Euro. They shouldn’t shoot at us if we lose.”
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on England v Ukraine