x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Euro 2012: Shevchenko may be denied his Ukraine swansong

Veteran striker may miss out on dramatic final bow before his home crowd.

Ukraine's Andriy Shevchenko reacts as their Group D Euro 2012 soccer match against France was interrupted at Donbass Arena in Donetsk June 15, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (UKRAINE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER) *** Local Caption *** STN110_SOCCER-EURO-_0615_11.JPG
Ukraine's Andriy Shevchenko reacts as their Group D Euro 2012 soccer match against France was interrupted at Donbass Arena in Donetsk June 15, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (UKRAINE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER) *** Local Caption *** STN110_SOCCER-EURO-_0615_11.JPG

DONETSK // As the window of expectation edges open for Wayne Rooney tonight, the door could simultaneously be about to close on the international career of Ukraine's finest player.

Andriy Shevchenko has yet to publicly announce whether he will play on after Euro 2012. Playing in a major tournament in his homeland had been seen as the perfect swansong for the 35-year-old striker, but the end may already have come.

The former AC Milan player has been struggling with a knee injury sustained in the defeat to France, and his chances of starting against England are rated as only 50-50 by his manager, Oleg Blokhin. If the host side lose, the international game could conceivably have seen the last of him.

"Every player chooses his moment to end his career," Blokhin, the Kiev-born manager who played 112 times for the Soviet Union, said of his talisman.

"It is really hard to tell a player to end his career. Andriy will make that decision on his own, and I don't know what it will be."

With memories of Shevchenko's brilliant two-header salvo against Sweden in Ukraine's opening match still fresh in the memory, England are well aware of his merits.

However, followers of the English Premier League also remember his curiously unproductive spell at Chelsea, which was totally out of sorts with what he produced before and since.

"Shevchenko is a first class player," said Roy Hodgson, the England manager. "His record and his CV brooks no discussion.

"I'm sure Oleg Blokhin will be very keen to get him on the pitch for his team as he is a potential match winner."

Ukraine will get an early glimpse of the future if the team doctors fail to remedy Shevchenko's knee complaint, and it is certainly one without stars.

Even with him in their line-up, they have a sometimes doubting public, particularly on this eastern, Russian-speaking side of the country.

The underlings are ready to do their duty, however. "Firstly, we play for our nation and our country," said Andriy Pyatov, the goalkeeper who will be turning out at his club's home ground in Donetsk tonight.

"We don't think about our careers. The most important thing is the result of the team, it's not about individuals."

Despite carrying the expectations of the host nation and the vast majority inside the Donbass Arena, Blokhin insists the pressure will be greater felt by England.

Hodgson, in the opposing dugout, acknowledged that his side had been flooded with renewed hope thanks to the manner of their comeback win against Sweden, and he is happy for it.

"Dreaming is what football is all about," England's manager said yesterday. "You play the game so you can get carried away. Expectations are always going to be what international football is all about.

"We should be happy that expectations have risen and that people think we can go a little bit further than maybe they believed before we started the competition.

"It is doesn't mean we will fulfil these expectations. Guarantees do not exist and it would be a foolish man who tried to give guarantees."

 

pradley@thenational.ae

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