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Ukraine and Sweden had never faced each other in a competitive fixture before tonight, having met only 3 times in history- for 3 friendlies. Each team had won once and one game had finished as a draw, the goal difference being 2-2 so far. That’s why most fans and pundits expected a draw yet again, but everyone was proved wrong and Ukraine got a 2-1 victory they’d be delighted with.
But one man in particular impressed tonight- Andriy Shevchenko. The 35-year old bagged a brace and got the victory for his side. A very, very emotional moment for one of the world’s legendary strikers who’s nearing the end of his career. But as Gary Lineker tweeted during the game: “Wonderful moment inside the Shevchenko Stadium in the City of Shevchenko.”
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and do this step by step shall we?
It is interesting to note that Sweden head coach Erik Hamren had decided to use Markus Rosenberg as a lone striker, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic was playing behind him, with Ola Toivonen and Sebastian Larsson employed as wingers.
The only surprise in the Ukrainian team was the fact that Artem Milevskiy was left out of the starting 11, with Oleg Blokhin choosing to play Andriy Shevchenko and Andriy Voronin up front, Serhiy Nazarenko being the one playing behind the strikers.
The first 20 minutes of the match didn’t provide much excitement, as both teams were being very cautious and seemed to care more not to concede a goal, rather than score one. Ukraine had more possession, although the Swedes were the ones who seemed more likely to make something happen.
From the 35th minute on the game became alive though, and it was the Ukrainians who had a chance to score. Voronin got the ball about 30 meters from Isaksson’s goal and unleashed a blistering shot, which was somehow saved by the Swedish goalkeeper.
The next opportunity came to the hosts again, when Andriy Yarmolenko shot from inside the box, but Isaksson and Andreas Granqvist somehow managed to block his attempt on goal and clear it out for a corner.
Sweden could have taken the lead in the 39th minute, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw his header hit the post and go out for a goal-kick. This was more or less the last clear-cut chance of a first half that started slowly, but opened up in the last 15 minutes.
Thankfully, the second part started in the same way that the first ended. So it came as no surprise when Sweden opened the scoring, the goal coming from none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 52nd minute. Kim Kallstrom put in a low cross after some sloppy defending by the Ukraine players and the AC Milan striker had nothing left to do but put the ball behind Pyatov, 1-0 for Sweden.
Their lead lasted just three minutes though, as Andriy Yarmolenko crossed a ball in from the right and Shevchenko leapt ahead of Olof Mellberg to power past a helpless Andreas Isaksson from close range- 1-1.
But the former Chelsea striker wasn’t finished. Just 7 minutes later, in the 62nd, he got another one. Konoplyanka swung in a corner, Shevchenko was the first to react at the near post and headed it in- 2-1 for Ukraine.
At that point Erik Hamren felt the need to change things around and rightly so, as his team appeared to be in a knock-down. In the span of 10 minutes he substituted the disappointing Toivonen, Larsson and Rosenber with Svensson, Wilhelmsson and Elmander. This seemed to have a positive effect and the Swedes had a number of chances to equalize.
Particularly important was the 89th minute, when Ibrahimovic passed the ball to Elmander, who shot high and wide with only Pyatov to beat. In injury time Olof Mellberg could have equalized as well, but his shot couldn’t find the target.
That was also the last real chance in the match. Ukraine thoroughly deserved their win, they played their hearts out and have every reason to be proud of their performance. The times ahead of Sweden head coach Erik Hamren seem bad though, as it will be very difficult for his side to win their remaining two matches against England and France. And that seems to be the only way for them to make it through to the quarter finals, especially after this defeat to the hosts.
Sports UN Man of the match: Andriy Shevchenko (UKR)
Ukraine 2-1 Sweden (0-0 HT)
Ukraine (4-3-1-2): Pyatov, Selin, Khacheridi, Mikhalik, Tymoshchuk, Gusev, Yarmolenko, Nazarenko, Konoplyanka (90 Devic), Shevchenko (81 Milevskiy), Voronin (85 Rotan); Manager: Oleg Blokhin
Sweden (4-2-3-1): Isaksson, Lustig, Mellberg, Granqvist, M. Olsson, Elm, Larsson (68 Wilhelmsson), Källström, Ibrahimovic, Toivonen (62 Svensson), Rosenberg (71 Elmander); Manager: Erik Hamren
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (TUR)
Goals: 52 Ibrahimovic; 55 & 62 Shevchenko.
Bookings: 11 Kallstrom, 83 Elm.