Friday 23 March 2018

Euro 2012: Blokhin seeks calm in eye of the storm

Ukraine manager Oleh Blokhin. Photo: Getty Images
Ukraine manager Oleh Blokhin. Photo: Getty Images

Jamie Holland

Ukraine manager Oleh Blokhin believes the co-hosts will have to cope with a "tornado" of interest if they are to start Euro 2012 with a win against Sweden tonight.

The Zhovto-Blakytni (Yellow-Blues) welcome Erik Hamren's side to the Olimpiysky Stadium in Kiev as they kick off their Group D campaign. Many have already written off Ukraine's chances of reaching the knock-out stage, with France and England to follow Sweden.

Blokhin knows his side face a tough challenge and hopes his players, especially the younger members of the squad, rise to the occasion.

"These guys have to face up to it, whether they like it or not," he said. "I said back in 2010 that it was time to revamp the national team.

"They may not win anything, but they're going to gain precious experience for the future, although of course I hope we go a long way in the competition.

"(Hosting the tournament is) like a tornado that could throw us in an unknown direction. When I took over I immediately set the goal to win the tournament since we are the hosts."

Ukraine head into the match on the back of friendly defeats to Austria and Turkey, a far cry from the success they enjoyed six years ago when they reached the World Cup quarter-finals. There are only eight survivors from the team that played at their only previous final tournament, including the likes of Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Andriy Voronin and Andriy Shevchenko.

Much of Ukraine's hope of a good start will rest on their ability to stifle Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The AC Milan striker has been a mainstay in the Swedish side for more than a decade and his service has been rewarded with the captaincy. "I'm very proud," he said on being handed the skipper's armband. "To experience a finals as team captain, it doesn't get any bigger than that."

Ukraine v Sweden,

Live, RTE2/BBC 1, 7.45

Irish Independent

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