Gaining automatic qualification into the 2012 UEFA European Championship, co-hosts Ukraine will look to their charismatic coach Oleg Blokhin for motivation. The most successful manager in Ukrainian history, Blokhin was also part of the old Soviet Union national team. With a squad that is by no means among the best in Europe, never mind world football, the hopes on an entire nation will be placed on the vastly experienced shoulders of skipper Andriy Shevchenko.
The longest serving player to feature at the tournament this summer, Sheva has been part of the national set-up since he made his debut in 1995. At 35 years of age, this is surely the last major tournament for the clinical veteran as the sun sets on a magnificent career. Having won everything there is to win at club level, including league titles and domestic cups in Italy, England and Ukraine, the UEFA Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and Supercups, international honours still elude the 2004 Ballon D’or winner’s trophy cabinet.
Apart from their main man, wingers Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko can be a threat on the flanks, while holding midfielder Antoliy Tymoschuk will bring his experience to steady the ship from the middle of the park. Veteran striker Andriy Voronin will partner the ever-green Shevchenko in attack, and hope that their combined experience can cause damage in front of the roaring Zbirna.
The lack of quality in the squad is evident, and adding to their woes is the clash of egos that has essentially split the camp into two, with 14 of the 23 players coming from Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk – two of the nation’s fiercest club rivals. The defence is also very shaky, making them vulnerable against teams with any kind of attacking firepower.
If Ukraine has any chances of pipping their group opponents to the quarter-finals stage of the competition, Shevchenko, Tymoschuk and Voronin will have to roll back the years, and make home advantage count. Considering Denmark did something similar in 1992 and shocked the planet with a Euro triumph, Ukraine must believe anything is still possible.