Ukraine will make their Euro 2012 debut in front of a home crowd in Kiev against Sweden on Monday.
Ukraine, who have only ever qualified for one major tournament – the 2006 FIFA World Cup – are co-hosting the European Championships with Poland and will play in front of a partisan home crowd in their Group D opener.
Oleg Blokhin’s side have not enjoyed an ideal build-up to the tournament, with successive friendly defeats to Austria and Turkey – countries who did not qualify for Euro 2012 – concerning the locals about their hopes of progressing from a tough group that also includes France and England.
But veteran striker Andriy Shevchenko is confident Ukraine will bounce back against the Swedes and open their campaign in style.
“I won’t dispute the fact that in the games against Austria and Turkey things happened in our team that were far from what was wanted,” Shevchenko said.
“But there were reasons for this. I can assure you in the match against Sweden you will see an absolutely different style of play from the Ukraine national team.”
With Andriy Voronin and Marko Devic likely to start up front, it appears that the 35-year-old Shevchenko, who has played for the likes of AC Milan and Chelsea, will have to settle for a role off the bench initially.
“To be honest, I don’t care how many minutes I will be out on the pitch,” he said.
“The main thing for me is to do the right things to help the team.”
A shortage of goalkeepers is of some concern to Blokhin, with Olexandr Shovkovskiy (shoulder), Andriy Dykan (concussion) and Olexandr Rybka (suspension for doping) all on the sidelines.
That means 27-year-old Andriy Pyatov – who plays his club football for Shakhtar Donetsk – will start in goal, against a Swedish forward line containing the likes of AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and PSV’s Ola Toivonen, who both enjoyed prolific seasons in front of goal.
Sweden have won their past four matches and earned automatic entry for the tournament after finishing as the best second-placed side in qualifying.
They defeated the Netherlands 3-2 in Stockholm in October to qualify and with the likes of Rasmus Elm, Sebastian Larsson and Johan Elmander also in the squad, the Swedes have the firepower to cause a few upsets this month.
Elmander (right foot) is the main injury worry for Sweden, but with their domestic season starting in March, many of their players are in prime condition.
Ukraine are missing first-choice centre-back Dmytro Chygrynskiy (thigh) but also have a relatively clean bill of health.
A tight contest is expected and with the support of the majority of the crowd, Ukraine will be keen to do their fans proud and make a strong start to the tournament.
But Sweden will be no easy beats and will feel quietly confident about their chances of pulling off an upset.
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