Four days after Eur0 2012 kicked off co-hosts Ukraine will finally get their Group D campaign underway with a tough game against Sweden with head coach Oleh Blokhin promising that they can’t wait to get going on home soil.
Having watched fellow host nation Poland draw with Greece on Friday evening Blokhin declared that his players are raring to go and he will have to ensure they don’t expend all of their energy in their first fixture at the Oblasny SportKomplex Metalist in Kharkiv.
He told UEFA.com: “We’re like a good horse waiting for the race to start – we want to get going, but we’re still waiting. Everyone wants to start but I have to calm my players down because the upcoming games will be very tough.”
Blokhin has been in charge for just over a year and led the Ukrainians to their first international tournament since they qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and reached the quarter finals before being knocked out by Italy.
But the 59-year-old believes the current side is far superior and has changed for the better but admitted it will be a challenge to strike a balance between the players’ desire to attack and his for them to defend.
“The 2006 team was more organised and defensive – we couldn’t play any other way. Now our team has changed, there are lots of younger players and lots who will finish their careers after EURO,” he said.
“The biggest problem was to find a balance, sometimes young players want to do more than they can. My team want to play attacking football; to get them to play defensively is very tough. They are young and exciteable and they want to attack.”
Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovich, who acknowledged his delight at being handed the armband for the finals, is anticipating a tough examination from the co-hosts and expressed the importance securing an early win
“I’m very proud. To experience a finals as team captain, it doesn’t get any bigger than that.” Ibrahimovich said.
“It is also a big responsibility to lead the team in the direction you want. It’s important to start well. I remember other final rounds where we did that, and we were able to just hold on during the following matches. And when we start off well, we become more self-confident.”
The AC Milan striker also touched upon the influence supporters could have on the Swedish side during the competition and thinks positive chanting could provide an extra lashing of motivation during games.
He added: “I have always said that 50% of football is about the spectators and the atmosphere. How the fans react and chant, that’s what gives you adrenaline and motivation. When things are hard on the pitch, the fans’ support can lift you 10 to 20%.”
Blokhin had to contend with a bout of food poisoning in the squad that threatened to derail his preparations but that has now cleared up meaning he has a fully fit squad to choose from.
Johan Elmander is an injury doubt for Sweden boss Erik Hamren as he continues his recovering from a fractured metatarsal and won’t be risked if he isn’t at 100%.
At 35 this is pretty much Shevchenko’s last shot to make an impact on the international tournament scene and he’ll be determined to ensure Ukraine retain their focus. The former Chelsea striker still has that knack of getting into goalscoring positions and if he’s presented with a chance it will he will more than likely bury it without hesitation.
Often a figure of frustration at both club and international level the enigmatic strike is still a pivotal figure for Sweden and will hold extra responsibility as captain during the competition. On his day he is unplayable and head coach Hamren will be counting on Ibrahimovich to deliver when it matters.