Euro 2012 Day 4: Shevchenko turns in an effort for the ages for Ukraine
The 82nd minute: Andriy Shevchenko raised his eyes to the stands for a moment, and then shook hands with each person on the Ukraine bench in turn before taking his seat. The crowd was still on its feet applauding. In a final warm-up match that Ukraine lost 2-0 to Turkey last week, Shevchenko played just 45 minutes and missed two good scoring chances, prompting mention of the dreaded R-word: retirement. It's a decision that he considered back in 2009 once Ukraine's World Cup qualification hopes were quashed, but one that he delayed with the knowledge that his country would be co-hosting Euro 2012. Today his brace gave Ukraine a win over Sweden in its first-ever European Championship fixture.
This was not an ordinary day of soccer. Though the draw between England and France ended with the traveling England supporters serenading their players with the national anthem, it was a game that rarely threatened to achieve the standards of play we've been treated to so far. The first 51 minutes of Ukraine and Sweden were not much better, but then Zlatan Ibrahimovic put Sweden a goal up, lighting the yellow-and-blue touch paper. Within 10 minutes, Shevchenko ensured that this date would go down in the annals of history, after all.
Shevchenko huffed and puffed in the first half -- at one point, he gestured to reassure the bench that he was okay to continue -- but a burst of pace helped him past Olof Mellberg in the second. With a darting leap, Shevchenko headed Andriy Yarmolenko's right-wing cross beyond Andreas Isaksson. His second goal was a mirror image, diverting Yevheniy Konoplyanka's corner inside Isaksson's other post. Fireworks illuminated skies across the country as "Sheva!" flickered onto Twitter's trending list.
It was the moment that Shevchenko had dreamed of, and one that fans had dared not allow themselves to imagine. At the end of the match, Shevchenko and his manager, Oleg Blokhin, rushed out onto the pitch and embraced, heads pushed together as orgiastic joy gripped the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. Blokhin had been accused of sentimentalism in selecting Shevchenko to spearhead his team. "Andrei is not any old footballer," Blokhin replied. "He is also a personality with immense and indisputable authority, which a team so needs."
The result leaves Ukraine at the top of Group D, two points ahead of its remaining opponents, France and England. Sweden drops to the bottom, with its chances of making the quarterfinals looking very slim.
"I'd like to save everything, but I couldn't see it," responded Hart. "There were too many bodies in the way."
When Denmark played Belgium in Group A at Euro 1984, three Anderlecht players scored: Frank Arnesen and Kenneth Brylle for Denmark, and Frank Vercauteren for Belgium. Today both France and England's goals were scored by Manchester City players: Nasri and Joleon Lescott.
1324 miles -- the distance between London and Kiev, which the England band (which has played at more than 300 England matches since the 1990s) covered by road only to be refused entry to the Olympic Stadium, unless it left its instruments at the turnstiles.
Czech Republic faces Greece as Group A play resumes, and Michal Bilek's side needs a result after losing 4-1 to Russia in its opener. "I haven't yet decided whether I'll make any changes," Bilek said. "We're under pressure but that's also what happened in qualifying. We managed to improve then and so I think that it will happen again and we'll handle the remaining two matches well and qualify for the quarterfinals."
Over in Warsaw, Russia can confirm its place in the quarterfinals with a win over Poland, who enter the game with first choice keeper Wojciech Szczesny suspended and Przemyk Tyton -- "the Penalty Killer" -- in his place. "[He] is a good goalkeeper as well," said Poland coach Franciszek Smuda, who is confident that his side won't suffer its first defeat to Russia since the mid-'90s. "I think in the next game against Russia he will play well."