Saturday 18 November 2017

Ukraine holds its breath as Shevchenko battles to make England clash

Jeremy Wilson

England will arrive back in Ukraine this afternoon to a nation holding its breath.

Andriy Shevchenko, the co-hosts' captain, talisman and greatest-ever player, is facing a race against time to be fit for a match against England tomorrow that is being regarded as the most important in Ukraine's history.

With only a win sufficient to secure the co-hosts' place in the quarter-finals, it could also be the final match of Shevchenko's illustrious career.

News of his injury scare emerged last night as the Ukraine squad arrived for an open training session at the Metalurh Stadium minus their most iconic player.

The injury to Shevchenko's left knee, was sufficiently serious to prevent even light training yesterday in front of around 1,000 home fans.

"He has fluid in his knee," said Ukraine press officer Alexander Glyvinski.

"We hope he will play against England but he is doubtful. He will have treatment. Now he can't train, we will see if he can tomorrow."

The assessment from team doctor Leonid Myronov, who described the injury as "not so terrible", was slightly more encouraging.

There was, however, always a major doubt over his capacity to play three complete group games in eight days.

Shevchenko, who will be 36 in September, has talked of retiring or moving to the United States to play Major League Soccer after this tournament.

He has dedicated himself over the past six months to a gruelling fitness schedule that has been designed to help him peak for this moment.

Ukraine have limited back-up options, with coach Oleg Blokhin likely to turn to Marko Devic to play alongside Andriy Voronin if Shevchenko does not recover.

Voronin said: "We need to win. It is the biggest game in the country's history."

Blokhin had openly questioned the attitude of his squad after Friday's 2-0 defeat against France. He claimed some players thought they had already reached the quarter-finals.

The team appeared very focused in training. "We want to go further than Poland," Voronin added. "It is a very important game for the whole country." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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