Ukraine v Sweden preview

Date published: Sunday 10th June 2012 4:29

Ukraine boss Oleh Blokhin believes the pressure of co-hosting the tournament is like a ‘tornado’ as he prepares his side to get their UEFA Euro 2012 Group D campaign underway.

Blokhin will have seen how Poland faded after a fine start against Greece on Friday, with Poland coach Franciszek Smuda revealing his side felt “paralysed by the pressure” of playing the tournament on home soil.

There is certainly little room for manoeuvre for Blokhin’s men in a tough looking Group D that also contains England and France. A first-game defeat in the Olympic Stadium in Kiev will leave them with a mountain to climb.

“[Hosting the tournament is] like a tornado that could throw us in an unknown direction,” said Blokhin. “These guys have to face up to it, whether they like it or not.”

With the benefit of not having to qualify the finals Ukraine have not played a competitive match since a 2010 World Cup play-off clash defeat to Greece in 2009. While recent friendly defeats to Austria and Turkey have not served as the ideal preparation.

There are, though, eight players from the side that famously reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2006, their first-ever international tournament.

The most famous name on that list is Andriy Shevchenko. At 35, the golden boy of Ukrainian football is past his peak, but as he prepares to draw the curtain down on his international career, he will not want go out with a whimper.

“Expectations here are the same for everybody,” added Blokhin, who understandably keen to ease the pressure on the veteran striker.

“We expect everyone to do their best, Shevchenko included.”

Sweden, meanwhile, go into a major tournament without coach Lars Lagerback for the first time since the 1994 World Cup.

Failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup saw veteran Lagerback leave to coach the Iceland national team, with replacement Erik Hamren immediately introducing a more attacking style.

Hamren subsequently led his side to second place behind the Netherlands in qualifying, but their points tally of 24 saw them qualify automatically as best runners-up. They were also one of only three sides to score 30 goals or more in qualifying.

The side will once again be built around talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has also been handed the captaincy for this tournament.

The AC Milan star often appears a mystery to British audiences, who regularly see him fail to impress against English opposition in Europe.

However, his quality is not in question and he will have a key role to play in Poland and the Ukraine.

“To experience a finals as team captain, it doesn’t get any bigger than that,” said the 30-year-old. “It is also a big responsibility to lead the team in the direction you want.

“It’s important to start well. I remember other final rounds where we did that, and we were able to just hold on during the following matches.

“And when we start off well, we become more self-confident.”

Blokhin has confirmed that a bout of food poisoning that threatened to further de-rail his side’s preparations has cleared up, meaning he has a full strength squad to choose from.

Andriy Shevchenko is tipped to start up front alongside Artem Milevskiy ahead of Dnipro striker Yevhen Konoplyanka.

Sweden’s main injury concern was Johan Elmander, but coach Hamren is confident the former Bolton star has recovered fully from a fractured metatarsal.

He is set to start as Sweden’s main striker just ahead of Ibrahimovic, while the talented midfield trio of Rasmus Elm, Sebastien Larsson and Kim Kallstrom are also poised to start.

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