When striker Andriy Shevchenko learned his country would co-host Euro 2012 along with Poland, he put aside any thoughts of retirement and set his sights on the big stage. Ukraine is in Group D, and opened up play June 11 against Sweden.
Playing in front of the home crowd in Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium, the stage was big indeed. Ukraine was playing in their first Euro contest in history, and it was on their own pitch. The majority of the Ukraine side is homegrown, and is probably underestimated somewhat by other clubs with players of greater international fame.
Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic fits that bill, and is considered one of the top strikers in the world. He missed early but brought the first goal of the game in the 52nd minute. Both teams had been fairly even in their play, with Ukraine having a slight edge. That evaporated with the Ibrahimovic goal, but the home crowd didn’t have to wait too long for an equalizer.
A beautiful strike
Shevchenko found the back of the net with a sweet header he manged to fire while surrounded by defenders. He notched it in with authority just about three minutes after Sweden went up 1-0. Move ahead seven more, and he took a feed from a corner kick in and slotted it past the near post. The defense held, and 2-1 Ukraine was the final result.
If Shevchenko wasn’t a national hero in Ukraine prior to Euro 2012, his status as such is assured now. He’s played for Kyiv’s Dynamo, AC Milan, Chelsea, and lately back with Dynamo, but even his Champions League exploits pale in comparison to bringing Ukraine their first win in their Euro debut.
He bears the same last name of the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, and these days it seems the name is destined for even more fame. Named Carlsburg Man of the Match, this generation’s Shevchenko put his country on his shoulders on the pitch of Olympic Stadium.
It’s hard to understate just what the win means. The obvious is three points and the lead in Group D. France and England played to a 1-1 draw in their meeting, so they are level with a point each and Sweden is at the bottom looking up.
More intangible, but just as important, is what the victory brings to fans and the country as a whole. The country may be plagued by continuing political strife, but there is unity behind their side, and the pride of the nation will help propel the team in their next fixtures.
More magic to come?
I travel often to Ukraine and have friends and relatives there, but unfortunately getting to Kyiv this summer was not in the cards for me. I would have loved to have been there, instead of just watching from home. I get a feeling the team isn’t done producing magic, and they will come out of Group D into the knockout stages.
The next test is France June 15, followed by England June 19. I think Ukraine has the better shot at beating England, and perhaps earning a draw versus France.