x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Euro 2012: Ukraine take it on the chin

Denied by fate, Oleg Blokhin's side would not be bothered who will win the tournament now. Paul Radley reports from Donetsk

Fans of Ukraine react at a fan zone in Kiev.
Fans of Ukraine react at a fan zone in Kiev.

At the end of a typically feisty final press conference at this tournament, Oleg Blokhin, the rambunctious Ukraine coach, was asked who he is going to support now his side are out.

This great man of Soviet and then Ukrainian football does not do apathy very well. He is highly animated, and seems to be driven by the sort of rage that makes Diego Maradona appear well-adjusted.

He had already offered one local journalist the chance to step outside for a real "man's conversation" after taking a disliking to his line of questioning. He went out of his way to repeat the proposition when the conference was over.

But who to support? He shrugged his shoulders. Had a think. Russia are out. Croatia are out. So it might as well be Germany. If he could really be bothered.

His players were the same. Don't care who wins, and might watch some of the games, but definitely not all of them, was the gist of the feedback.

It will be a pity if such ambivalence bleeds its way into the general public here. The appetite for this tournament has been voracious so far, but it is not guaranteed to remain so now that each of the co-hosts, Poland and Ukraine, have exited at the first hurdle.

When Denmark played Portugal in Lviv in a pool match last week, yellow was the predominant colour in the stands, and the loudest chant of the match was one in support of Ukraine. But they could still look forward to their team playing in it then.

Yesterday was the first day without a match since the tournament started. On the streets of Donetsk city centre, life appeared to have returned to business as usual.

There was no great outrage at the their team's demise, no effigies of the goal-line official being burnt. Perhaps they are used to an underachieving national team in these parts: Ukraine have never won a match at the Donbass Arena, with one draw and now four defeats.

However, there is a tangible sense of optimism that a future without Andriy Shevchenko could still be a bright one. "I am not ashamed of the team," Blokhin said. "Our team has colossal prospects."

Ukraine are 52nd in the Fifa rankings, while Poland are way down at 62 below the likes of Sierra Leone and Armenia.

By that reckoning, each of them overachieved by reaching their final group game still with a chance of qualifying for the knockout phase. But for some chronically absent goal-line technology, they might still be there.

"They did everything [Blokhin] asked of them to win the game," said Roy Hodgson, the England manager. "If there is any fairness in the world he will get credit for the way they did."

The feeling of general well-being generated by having the tournament here has gone beyond the sporting sphere, too.

Far from the pre-tournament forecasts of pitched battles between hooligans, there has reportedly been a drop in the crime rate since the competition started.

"The number of murders and lethal car accidents has dropped," Volodymyr Polishchuk, an interior ministry spokesman, was quoted as saying.

The Kiev Post newspaper, meanwhile, gave fans a list of options for who to back now their team are out. It outlined a case to back each team, ranging from idealism being a reason to support Spain, or "good old-fashioned masculinity" for shifting allegiance to England.

The majority of Ukraines did not hold out unrealistic expectations for their team ahead of this championships. The fact they no longer have a team to support may not matter. There is still a tournament to follow.

pradley@thenational.ae

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