Shevchenko the legend lights up Kyiv

Ukraine 2 Sweden 1

Zlatan Ibrahamovic (0-1); Andriy Shevchenko (1-1); Andriy Shevchenko (2-1)

The last match in the first round of matches was a simmering affair. It started cagily but developed into a pulsating contest. Ukrainian manager Oleg Blokhin pulled off a tactical masterstroke with his starting line-up by playing the veteran Andriy Shevchenko in place of the in-form Marko Devic who was billed to start by all experts. It was an inspired selection which decided the course of the match. As expected Ukraine started with a 4-1-3-2 formation with Shevchenko and Voronin in attack. Sweden started with the 4-2-3-1 formation with Ibrahimovic playing in the hole behind the lone striker Rosenberg. The Swedes who were unbeaten in their last five matches came up against a team which was inspired by the support of the partisan 65,000 supporters who had gathered at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv. The match was decided in a pivotal ten minutes early in the second half.

Shevchenko scores the equaliser

The start of the game was cautious from both sides who knew that a win would put them on top of the group. Sweden started brighter with an Ibrahimovic cross being palmed by the opposition goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov in the opening five minutes. The match was quite combative with 16 fouls in the opening 15 minutes.  Ukraine then took control of possession with Husev the left back linking up into the mid-field with Tymoshchuk and finding a lot of joy in the wings especially on the left through Yevhen Konoplyanka. The battle between the two veterans Olaf Mellberg and Andriy Shevchenko was captivating contest. The first clear chance fell to Shevchenko in the 23rd minute through a counterattack from the right where he exchanged passes with Yarmalenko and was in a one-on-one situation against Andreas Isaksson the Swedish goalkeeper. Shevchenko pulled his shot wide of the far post. In the opposite end Rosenberg made Pyatov scramble with a shot from outside the area in the 31st. Ukraine enjoyed long spells of sustained possession but could not find that opening with the Scandinavian defence holding strong. In the 35th minute Andriy Vorinin took a fierce pile driver from 25 yards which was parried by Isaksson. The hosts came close again on the 37th minute with Shevchenko hit a shot from the left of the box which was blocked and the rebound feel to his head which is crossed into the path of Yarmalenko whose shot was on target but valiantly blocked by a diving Andreas Granqvist. The best chance of the half fell to Ibrahimovic in the 39th minute. A cross from Lustic from the left found Ibrahimovic unmarked with ample time and he placed his header against the outside of the far post with the Ukrainian keeper completely beaten.

Ukraine continued having more possession in the starting of the second half. However Sweden looked more threatening in attack and Rosenberg shot in the 49th minute was on target and was blocked superbly by Yehven Selin the Ukrainian right back. The Swedes went ahead in the 52nd minute a long cross from the left was put back in the penalty area by Kim Kallstrom to an unmarked Ibrahimovic to stab in from close to silence the majority of the stadium. The lead lasted for only 3 minutes as Husev burst down the right and passed to Yarmalenko who crossed with his left foot and that man Shevchenko jumped ahead of his marker Mellberg to head in the equaliser. The stadium had erupted and the Ukrainians buoyed by the support went forward menacingly and Gusev shot over from outside the box in the 59th minute. The Ukrainians got a corner in the 62nd minute and Konoplyanka took it from the left. Shevchenko managed to get rid of his marker Ibrahimovic and flicked the ball with his head at the near post. The ball went in past a very small gap between the post and Lustig the Swedish defender who was guarding it. The legend had turned the match on its head in a matter of 10 minutes. The Swedes re-organised by bringing on the veteran Anders Svensson in place of Toivonen. Svensson shored up the mid-field allowing Rasmus Elm to go forward to support the attackers. Sweden brought on Christian Wilhelmsson the more attack minded winger in place of Seb Larrson in the 68th minute. Wilhelmsson nearly found Elm with a long pass from the left.  Joham Elmander just back from his broken meta-tarsal was sent in by the Swedes in the 71st minute looking for an equaliser. Shevchenko and Voronin were both withdrawn as Blokhin tried to bring in fresher legs to his teams cause. Sweden nearly found the equaliser in the 90th minute when Elamander exchanged passes with Ibrahamovic a lofted return pass sent him clear but he blasted the ball over with the goal at his mercy. A fully match fit Elmander may have scored from a similar chance. In the last minute of added time Olaf Mellberg found himself in the opposition penalty box but his volley with outstretched foot sailed over the goal.

After Thought

It was expected that the in-form Swedish team would easily get past the hosts who had lost their last two matches and were low on confidence. However, Ukraine was the better side and dominated the game for long periods of time with sustained possession and more attempts on goal. Oleg Blokhin has proved to be a master tactician by starting his veteran striker allowing him to gain confidence from the partisan support. They will go into their match against France with a lot of belief and the knowledge that a win will ensure qualification to the quarter-finals. Sweden will have to re-think their strategy and shore up the mid-field which was outplayed by the Ukrainians. It will be better if they started with Svesson instead of Toivonen allowing Elm to play in the advanced role. The fitness of Elmander will also be crucial to their fortunes. They need to get a result against England who managed to draw against a better French side. The Swedes do not want to go into the last match against France looking for a victory which looks unlikely looking at the first round of matches.


Ukraine  : Andriy Pyatov, Oleg Husyev,  Yevhen Khacheridi, Taras Mykhalik, Yevhen Selin, Anatoliy Timoschchuk, Serhiy Nazarenko, Yevhen Konoplyanka (Marko Devic,90+3), Andriy Yarmolenko, Andriy Shevchenko (Artem Milevskyi,81), Andriy Voronin (Ruslan Rotan,85)

Sweden :Andreas Isaksson, Mikael Lustig, Olaf  Mellberg, Andreas Granqvist,  Martin Olsson, Rasmus Elm, Kim Kallstrom, Sebastian Larsson (Christian Wilhelmsson,68), Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ola Toivonen (Anders Svensson,62), Markus Rosenberg (Johan Elmander,71)

Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (Turkey)

Venue: Olympic Stadium


“All the players, the staff and the stadium were with us. That’s why we won today – we were one family.” Anatoliy Tymoshchuk- on the team spirit of Ukraine.



“It’s tough, it’s tough. We shouldn’t have lost. We had good chances to score goals. We were winning 1-0, then they scored to make it 1-1 and another to make it 2-1 from a corner and that just can’t happen. But we have two games left to do better.” Zlatan Ibrahamovic – on his teams loss.

UEFA Euro 2012 Preview: Group C

The Euro 2012 Group preview continues with Group C. This Group has two very strong contenders in Spain and Italy. Kinshuk Biswas discusses their chances and probable team line-ups along with those of Croatia and Republic of Ireland

Goalden Times continues its Group previews of Euro 2012 following Groups A and B, with Group C. This Group has two traditional superpowers of European football with two other teams who have done well in international tournaments whenever they have qualified for the finals. At first glance, it seems that the two big teams Spain and Italy will qualify easily at the expense of Croatia and Republic of Ireland. Although both the so-called weaker teams are no pushovers and have caused upsets before. Spain and Italy played out a goalless draw in the quarter-finals in 2008 before Spain went on to win in the penalty shoot-out. Incidentally this was the only match the Spanish team did not win outright in the last tournament.


Resume: Champions 1964 and 2008. Runners up-1984. Quarter Finals-1996 and 2000

Road to the finals: Qualifying Group I Winner. P-8 W-8 D-0 L-0 GF-26 GA-6 GD-+20

Spain became only the third nation to be World and European champions simultaneously in 2010 after Germany (1972-1974) and France (1998-2000). This team is considered by many as one of the greatest ever. They will start as strong favourites to retain their crown as they qualified with an all win record. No team has successfully defended the Euro trophy and Spain may be the best bet to reverse this trend. In Vicente del Bosque they have a shrewd manager who has continued the good work of Luis Aragones. Del Bosque has successfully managed Real Madrid and knows how to handle a locker room full of superstars. Spain plays with a 4-3-3 formation which enables them to play their tiki-taka style evolved from the very successful Barcelona team. In Iker Casillas, their goalkeeper captain from Real Madrid they have one of the best in the world. Victor Valdes of Barcelona is an able replacement. In the centre of defence they have the pairing of Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid and Gerard Pique of Barcelona as first choice. The experienced Carlos Puyol of Barcelona and Carlos Marchena of Villareal are able replacements. In the right-back position, Alvaro Arbeloa of Real Madrid is likely to start. Sergio Ramos and Carlos Puyol have also played in the right-back positions when required. The left-back position is the only one in this team which is yet to have an automatic choice. Jordi Alba of Valencia has been used in recent times by Del-Bosque. Joan Capdevila of Benfica was recalled in the last friendly against Venezuela as cover. The team may play Puyol and Pique in the centre of defence and use Ramos on the right and Arbeloa on the left as well.

Their mid-field is possibly the strongest in the world – Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets of Barcelona with Xabi Alonso of Real Madrid as the first choice starters. There is ample cover in Cesc Fabregas of Barcelona and Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao. The manager is spoilt for choices in the forward line. Andres Iniesta and Pedro Rodriguez of Barcelona on the left and right are the likely starters. There are many options in these positions with David Silva of Manchester City and Juan Mata of Chelsea, both having great seasons for their clubs. The beauty is that all these players can play in the mid-field and the forward line which gives the manager great flexibility in his tactics. The centre-forward position is up for grabs as David Villa of Barcelona is unlikely to recover from a broken leg and Fernando Torres has been in poor goal-scoring form for his club Chelsea. Roberto Soldado of Valencia has made a strong claim by scoring a hat-trick in a friendly. Fernando Llorente of Athletic Bilbao is the other player vying for this position.

Spain looks a very strong team and should easily qualify from the group stages. The only problem for Spain is the lack of a goal-scoring striker in good form. The quality of the other attacking players has managed to overcome this problem admirably till now. However, the team which keeps so much of possession and control of the match are prone to be wasteful in front of goal and sometimes, it hurts them, like against Switzerland in the World Cup 2010 opening match and against England in a friendly recently. They will definitely qualify and should easily reach the later stages of the tournament. However, with the expectant fans who have become used to success, nothing less than the trophy will count. The first match against the resurgent Italian team will possibly be the toughest test in the group stages.

Head to Head


Played Won Drawn Lost GF GA


Italy 25 7 10 8 25 29 -4
Croatia 4 2 1 1 5 4 +1
Ireland 24 13 7 4 48 18 +30


Resume: Champions 1968. Runners up-2000. Semi- Finals-1980 and 1988

Road to the finals: Qualifying Group I Winner. P-10 W-8 D-2 L-0 GF-20 GA-2 GD-+18

The Azzuri have traditionally not performed well in the Euro championships compared to their World Cup exploits. Their current manager, Cesare Prandelli had been appointed before World Cup 2010 as a successor to Marcello Lippi. The disastrous performance in the tournament meant that Prandelli inherited a team with very low morale and was subjected to widespread criticism from the media and fans. However, one must remember that after the ignominious exit at the 1966 World Cup, Italy managed to bounce back and win the Euro Championships in 1968. If the current Italian team manages to repeat that feat, it will not be a major surprise at least to us at Goalden Times. Qualification was relatively easy, helped by rioting opposition fans at Genoa who disrupted the match against Serbia after six minutes. Italy was awarded the match 3-0. Prandelli favours a 4-3-1-2 formation. In goal they have the team captain and one of the all time greats, Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus. Morgan De Sanctis of Napoli is an experienced substitute for Buffon. The centre of defence will be marshalled by the Juventus duo of Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli. Domenico Criscito of Zenit FC and Andrea Ranocchia of Inter are the substitute players in these positions. In the right-back position, Christian Maggio of Napoli is the first choice. Ignazio Abate of Milan and Mattia Cassani of Fiorentina are able replacements. The first choice left-back is Federico Balzaretti of Palermo. Angelo Ogbonna of Torino has been used in left-back along with Chiellini and Criscito. Ogbonna can play in the centre of defence as well.

In the mid-field, Andrea Pirlo of Juventus will play as the regista. Claudio Marchisio of Juventus or Antonio Nocerino of AC Milan will play on the left and Daniele De Rossi or Thiago Motta of Paris Saint-Germain on the right. Alberto Aquilani of AC Milan and Riccardo Montolivo of Fiorentina will be vying to play in the hole behind the strikers. Prandelli has rotated players in this position by using all three and sometimes Montolivo as a substitute on the right. The unfortunate illness of Antonio Cassano of Milan has possibly robbed the team of its best forward. There are reports which suggest that he may be getting back to full fitness. Giampaolo Pazzini of Inter, Alessandro Matri of Juventus, Sebastian Giovinco of Parma and Fabio Borini of Roma have all been tried. Giovinco, who is in terrific form, is perhaps the favourite to start in the absence of Cassano. Mario Balotelli of Manchester City is the favourite to partner Cassano or Giovinco. Although Prandelli has mentioned in recent interviews that Balotelli’s off-field antics weigh heavily against his selection.

Italians are notoriously slow starters in major international tournaments. They come into their own in the knock-out rounds and latter stages of the tournaments. This time they have to be careful as the first match is against Spain and is going to be possibly their toughest test. Croatia is one of the few national teams to have a positive record against Italy and have beaten them in the finals of the World Cup in 2002. The Irish are no pushovers either and in their coach, Giovanni Trapattoni they have someone who possibly knows more about the Italian players and tactics than anybody. Ireland recently defeated Italy 2-0 under the guidance of Trapattoni in a neutral venue. Italians generally have a very good defence. The nucleus of the defence is from Juventus, who are still unbeaten in Serie A this season.  The problem is Italian teams tend to get defensive after taking the lead, which has hurt them in the past. All said, the Italians are the masters of gaining positive results and should qualify for the knock-out stages. They are a good bet to go all the way if they make it to the latter stages of the tournament.

Head to Head


Played Won Drawn Lost GF GA


Spain 25 8 10 7 29 25 +4
Croatia 5 1 1 3 7 7 0
Ireland 11 7 2 2 18 9 +9


Resume: Quarter- Finals-1996 and 2008

Road to the finals: Qualifying Group F Runners up. P-10 W-7 D-1 L-2 GF-18 GA-7 GD-+11

Playoff vs Turkey 3-0 aggregate (3-0,0-0)

Croatia is a relatively new team which was formed after the break-up of Yugoslavia. With Serbia, the Croatians have the best record after the break-up of the country. The Croatian team is managed by Slaven Bilić, one of the members of the golden generation of players which took the country to a third position in the World Cup in 1998. Bilić, who has been in charge since 2006, prefers using the 4-4-2 formation.  Stipe Pletikosa of Rostov FC is a very experienced goalkeeper. Danijel Subašić of Monaco is the second choice. The central defence has the experienced Josip Šimunić of Dinamo Zagreb and Gordon Schildenfeld of Eintracht Frankfurt. Vedran Ćorluka of Bayer Leverkusen is the first choice left-back. Danijel Pranjić of Bayern Munich is an able replacement and can play in the midfield as well. Domagoj Vida of Dinamo is likely to be the right-back. Vida has looked solid in his eight appearances for the national side. He has also allowed the national captain, Darijo Srna of Shakter Donetsk to play in the right wing where he has been a revelation in place of his normal right-back position. Ćorluka can also fill in at the right-back position, if required.

Bilić has a lot of choices in the midfield.  Ivan Rakitić of Sevilla and the highly rated Luka Modrić of Tottenham Hotspur will play on the left side. Both the players can play wide and in the left-central midfield position, if required.  Pranjić will be the substitute, if necessary.  The national captain Srna will start as right winger based on his recent exploits. Niko Kranjčar of Tottenham Hotspur and Ognjen Vukojević of Dynamo Kyiv will compete for the right-central mid-fielder position.  Mario Mandžukić of VfL Wolfsburg is the main striker. Ivica Olić of Bayern Munich, Eduardo of Shakter Donetsk and Nikica Jelavić of Everton will all be vying to start with him.

Croatia is a team which plays with a lot of pressing and counter-attacking style of play. They accede possession to the opponents and try to press them with the mid-fielders and forwards working very hard. The problem is this may not work with teams like Spain and Italy who are very comfortable in possession. Croatians are lucky that they are facing the Irish in the first match. If they manage to qualify from this group, it will be a huge success.

Head to Head


Played Won Drawn Lost GF GA


Spain 4 1 1 2 4 5 -1
Italy 5 3 1 1 7 7 0
Ireland 6 1 3 2 5 7 -2

  Republic of Ireland (Ireland)

Resume: Group Stage 1988.

Road to the finals: Qualifying Group B Runners up. P-10 W-6 D-3 L-1 GF-15 GA-7 GD-+8

Playoff vs Estonia 5-1 aggregate (4-0,1-1)

The Republic of Ireland or Ireland team was unlucky to miss out on qualification to the World Cup in 2010 eliminated by France in the play-off due to an impromptu game of handball by Thierry Henry which resulted in a goal. Ireland is managed by Giovanni Trapattoni (Il Trap), one of the most experienced and successful coaches in the game. Trapattoni has generally used the 4-4-1-1 formation for the Irish team. However recently he has been favouring the 4-4-2 formation. In goal, Ireland has one of the most experienced players of the English Premiership in Shay Given of Aston Villa.  Kieran Westwood of Sunderland is the second choice. Richard Dunne of Aston Villa was outstanding for the Irish in their Euro qualification match against Russia and is the first choice centre-back with Sean St-Ledger of Leicester City. Darren O’Dea of Leeds United and Shane Duffy of Everton are the main replacements. Stephen Ward of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Stephen Kelly of Fulham are both vying for the right-back position. John O’Shea of Sunderland is the first choice left-back. Kelly has played at left-back too.

The mid-field has a lot of experience with Keith Andrews of West Bromwich Albion and Glen Whelan of Stoke City in the central positions. Damien Duff of Fulham is the left winger and Aiden McGeady of Spartak Moscow is the first choice right winger. Stephen Hunt of Wolverhampton is an able substitute and can play in both wings. Seamus Coleman of Everton, the Irish Messi has been in good form and should push for a starting berth.  There are some good youngsters like James McCarthy of Wigan and James McClean of Sunderland in the reserves. The forward line is marshalled by the experienced Robbie Keane of Los Angeles Galaxy who plays in the hole behind the striker in case of a 4-4-1-1 formation. The lone striker is usually Kevin Doyle of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Doyle and Keane play as two strikers in the 4-4-2 formation. The team has the West Brom duo of Shane Long and Simon Cox in reserve. Jonathan Walters of Stoke City and Anthony Stokes of Celtic have also been used by Trapattoni.

The Irish will give a good and robust account of themselves in all matches. They have a disadvantage in that they lack quality players to really trouble the better teams. The problems with Trapattoni’s tactics and team selections are manifold. Their first match against Croatia will be crucial as it will set the tone for the tougher tests against Spain and Italy to follow.  It will be a very difficult task for them to qualify out of this group. However, one can never discount ‘the luck of the Irish’.

Head to Head


Played Won Drawn Lost GF GA


Spain 24 4 7 13 18 48 -30
Italy 11 2 2 7 9 18 -9
Croatia 6 2 3 2 7 5 +2

Final Verdict:

The final verdict has four categories of teams: 1) Sure-shot, which means that the team is the favourite to progress from the group. 2) Likely is the team that is not the total favourite but is the second favourite to qualify. 3) Dark Horse is a team which can reach the quarter-finals but has to overcome similar teams or favourites to do so. 4) Upset means that the team reaching the quarter-finals will be a major surprise. In groups there maybe more than a single team in each category.

Sure-shot: Spain

Likely:  Italy

Dark Horse: Croatia

Upset: Republic of Ireland