Sheva’s swansong Modern Ukraine’s most celebrated son gives fans one last magical night to remember
With all due respect to Oleh Blokhin and his squad, nobody really expected much from Ukraine on the pitch at Euro 2012. Ranked far below their group stage opponents in the FIFA ratings and without a competitive fixture to their name since 2009, Ukraine entered the championships by default as co-hosts and were seen as potential whipping boys. The one ace which Ukraine possessed – former AC Milan terrace deity Andriy Shevchenko - was widely regarded as a spent force whose selection owed as much to sentimentality as it did to the player’s waning abilities.
Given this lack of confidence in Ukraine’s on-field potential, there was a sense of the inevitable when Sweden took the lead ten minutes into the second half of the team’s opening group fixture in Kyiv. Many fully expected Ukrainian heads to drop at this point, but instead Andriy Shevchenko stepped up to deliver an immediate and devastating two-goal response which few Ukrainian fans will ever forget. This was vintage Sheva back to his best, poaching two predatory headed goals in the space of six second half minutes to turn the match on its head and leave the Swedes floundering.
There was to be no way back for the Scandinavians and their army of supporters. For Ukraine, it was the dream start which nobody had believed was possible. Fittingly, Shevchenko received one of the most rousing ovations of the entire championships when he was substituted late on in the match. He had given his country one more magical memory and led Ukraine to its first UEFA European Championship victory.
This Sheva-inspired win over Sweden sparked memorable scenes of jubilation across Ukraine as the entire nation celebrated with the kind of gusto usually reserved for World Cup triumphs. It was a precious moment for all Ukrainians and a night which will be long recalled. Ukraine’s next two matches proved to be something of an anti-climax, with Sheva and Co. losing 2-0 and 1-0 respectively to France and England to go out of the tournament. Nevertheless, they bowed out safe in the knowledge that they had at least managed to give the nation one unforgettable evening of Euro glory.
Shevchenko announced his long-expected international retirement following Ukraine’s departure from Euro 2012. He leaves the international stage with a sensational record of 48 goals in 111 appearances and with his reputation as a national icon more firmly established than ever. In future years few will recall the relatively modest twilight years of Shevchenko’s career, but his brilliant headed brace of goals against the Swedes will live long in the national memory.