Ukraine have a mountain to climb
to beat England and reach the Euro 2012 quarter-finals after a
2-0 defeat by France exposed a creaking defence which will be
sorely tested by striker Wayne Rooney's return from suspension.
The co-hosts must aim for an early goal and then shut out
England - re-energised by a thrilling 3-2 win over Sweden - if
they are to shake off the Donetsk curse next Tuesday and get the
three points they need to progress from Group D.
Coach Oleg Blokhin said his side would get a serious talking
to after failing to rediscover the style against the French that
brought them a stirring 2-1 victory over Sweden in their opener.
Sporting websites ran headlines such as "France brings
Ukraine down to earth" while the popular football site
www.football.ua said: "The illusion of this team having great
powers has been shattered practically to its foundations."
Some commentators said Blokhin, who tends to swap out
defenders in pairs rather than individually, might bring in
Yaroslav Rakitsky and Oleksander Kucher for Taras Mykhalyk and
Evhen Khacheridi to try to hold England's forwards in check.
Midfielders Andriy Yarmolenko and Evhen Konoplyanka were
targeted by local pundits for below-par performances, while Oleh
Gusyev was criticised for being at fault for France midfielder
Yohan Cabaye's 56th minute goal which sealed Ukraine's fate.
"To beat England we need to improve," said striker Andriy
Shevchenko, two-goal hero of the victory over Sweden.
"They are not easy rivals and they pose a special threat
from set pieces - free-kicks and corners," he added.
Shevchenko, who played in the English Premier League for
Chelsea, took heart from the hope that Rooney, likely to return
to the starting line-up after his ban, might be stale.
Ukraine, who trail France and England by a point, know
anything other than a win will knock them out of the tournament
and their fortunes will come down in the end to how well
Shevchenko and company perform in front of goal.
In Friday's match, after a 55-minute interruption because of
torrential rain, the hosts tore into France but Shevchenko,
though he put in two rasping shots, was unable to wreak the same
havoc that he did against the shaky Swedish defence.
"The situation is not completely lost. But now we don't have
anywhere to retreat to - we can only fall back on victory over
England," said midfielder Anatoly Tymoshchuk.
"I don't like the fact that the team stopped playing after
conceding the second goal. If some players thought they were
already in the quarter-finals, they were wrong," added Blokhin.
"No doubt, we will have a serious talk. Many of them
understood the Euro is not at domestic championship level. Here
you have to show your best qualities in each game," he said.
Ukraine are also up against the form book.
They have now failed to win any of the four matches they
have played at Donetsk's space-age Donbass Arena stadium where
they will meet England next Tuesday.
Blokhin on Friday complained that Ukrainian supporters
jeered and booed in the final stages against France. That and
the apocalyptic nature of Friday's downpour added to the
impression that the stadium is becoming a cursed venue for them.
"Whistle at me if you like, but not at the players," Blokhin
said in defence of his team. "They are trying their best."
However, one opinion poll indicated Ukrainians were more
optimistic than the booing suggested.
The Segodnya newspaper
site said that out of 350 people polled, 42 percent believed
Ukraine would win, 36 percent expected a draw while 18 percent
said England would triumph.
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