Ukraine Euro 2012 Focus – Blokhin may regret criticism

Oleg Blokhin spoke out ahead of Ukraine’s opening Euro 2012 game against Sweden on Monday, claiming that his strikers could not hit a bovine behind with a banjo, and his defenders are not even aware that their primary function is to tackle. Whether this is genuine pessimism or an attempt at brilliant mind games, it will surely now only have a detrimental effect on a squad that has already been blighted with problems.

Blokhin is quoted by the Daily Mail as saying: “Excuse me, but this level is very low for our championship. If a forward can’t create a situation where he’s able to poke the ball home, then he’s not a forward for me. In our case, it’s difficult even to find a forward playing permanently for his club.” He added: “ We have problems related to both the central defenders and full-backs. Figuratively speaking, our defenders do not even tackle properly.

It may be Blokhin’s way of removing pressure from the shoulders his players but there is a very fine line between media deflection and total de-motivation. Should the co-hosts fail to escape Group D, these are public words that could come back to haunt Blokhin. If Ukraine finish bottom of the group, then this ploy will back-fire on a coach who will surely then face criticism himself that he does not know how to coach and motivate his team.

Of their group opponents, surely Blokhin should be setting his troops up to take maximum points from Sweden, the second lowest ranked team after themselves in the group. Victory would not only give them three vital points, but the confidence to face England and France, one of which may have already suffered a defeat, and give themselves a real chance of qualification.

The team will be buoyed by the return of Andriy Yarmolenko, the man tipped by legendary captain Andriy Shevchenko to be the future of Ukrainian football. With England’s star man Wayne Rooney unavailable against France and England, the Three Lions may have to go all-out in their final group encounter with Ukraine. The co-hosts will therefore need their key men – in particular Yarmolenko and Shevchenko to perform if they are to match the might of Rooney, flair of Franck Ribery for France and unpredictability of Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Shevchenko looks likely to start up front alongside Artem Milevskiy as Blokhin prepares to deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation. His ‘inept’ defence will have to be alert as centre-forward Johan Elmander should be fit to start as he plays just in front of captain Ibrahimovic, who should take a free role for Erik Hamren’s Scandinavians.

Qualification for either team will surely hinge on the outcome of this game, but Ukraine need only to look back to their success six years ago in Berlin, when they reached the quarter-finals of their inaugural World Cup.

Eight players remain from that memorable campaign, and players young and old will want to prove their worth on home soil. Whether or not Blokhin’s words ring true remains to be seen, but ultimately it will be down to the players to prove that they can perform under pressure come kick-off against Sweden.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on England v France

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