Shevchenko Double Secures Vital Win For Co-Hosts
A brilliant headed double from Andriy Shevchenko capped a smash and grab victory for co-hosts Ukraine as they fought back from a goal down to defeat Sweden 2-1 in Kiev. The victory completed what is now surely the greatest night in Ukrainian football since the country’s independence following the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. Fittingly, it was Shevchenko, the country’s national hero, who ignited the scenes of jubilation with his trademark predatory goal-scoring instinct.
The 1st half was a well balanced affair with the game’s few chances centering around two players who have been the focal point of their respective national sides during the past decade. Sweden’s enigmatic talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic was involved in the game’s first noteworthy goalmouth incident, lifting an elusive yet teasing pass across the Ukraine box for Andriy Pyatov, who was unconvincing throughout, to punch frantically away from goal. Ukraine’s veteran striker Shevchenko was then on hand to offer the hosts’ their first meaningful attacking effort but he could only screw his effort across the face of goal following a slick interchange with Andriy Yarmolenko.
The best chance of the opening period fell to Sweden and again it was Ibrahimovic who was involved. Sebastian Larsson sent a delightful ball deep into the Ukraine box as Ibrahimovic found himself unmarked and presented with the chance to hand the Swedes the initiative, but his effort brushed against Pyatov’s far post as the hosts ended the 1st half with their clean sheet preserved.
Considering that Erik Hamren’s Sweden side have both England and France to play in their next two games their lack of ambition during the 1st half was somewhat surprising against a Ukraine team that failed to win any of their friendlies versus teams who have qualified for the tournament during the last two years. Markus Rosenberg was notably ineffective up front whilst Rasmus Elm in the centre and Ola Toivonen on the left cut frustrated figures as the Scandinavians lacked the offensive mindset that has been more characteristic of Hamren’s team during qualifying.
Despite their conservative nature Sweden did appear the more likely to open the scoring as the 2nd half began, with the Ukrainians looking unconvincing defensively. The Ukrainians’ shakiness was pivotal when Sweden took the lead on 51 minutes, as they failed to clear a series of crosses before Kim Kallstrom squared the ball to Ibrahimovic, who was then allowed the freedom of the six-yard box to convert a simple tap-in.
It wouldn’t have been surprising if Ukraine had crumbled but instead the Swedes’ opener reinvigorated the hosts. Sweden’s lead was only a couple of minutes old when Yarmolenko delivered an excellent ball into the box for Shevchenko to roll back the years and level the scores after meeting the ball following a clever run. The atmosphere inside the Olympic stadium exploded as Ukraine aimed to capitalise on their new found ascendancy and it wasn’t long before the Ukrainian faithful had their wish. Shevchenko was the man who once more provided the goods, losing his marker Ibrahimovic to skilfully poke a header beyond Mikael Rustig at the near post.
To their credit though, Sweden regained their composure to steady the flow of Ukraine’s now confident attacking play and began to muster chances of their own as the clock ticked down. Ibrahimovic’s powerful effort was matched by Pyatov before Johan Elmander and Olof Mellberg lobbed efforts agonisingly over the bar as the game reached its conclusion.
The referee’s final whistle ended a brilliantly contested 2nd half as the Olympic stadium and the nation of Ukraine began to celebrate. Andriy Shevchenko was ultimately the difference between the two sides as he defied his advanced years and weary legs to poach two excellent goals in an historic night for Ukrainian football.