The phrase, “Written in the Stars” is becoming increasingly overused in the footballing world, however with Ukraine’s 2-1 win over Sweden in front of 68,000 in Donestk last night it seems almost too appropriate that Gary Neville’s favourite four words in the English language are used once more. An Andriy Shevchenko double inspired the joint hosts to a moral boosting victory over a toothless Sweden side who did initially take the lead in the game through Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Andriy Shevchenko who had been substituted in the previous four matches leading up to the tournament was to spearhead the attack alongside former Liverpool flop Andriy Voronin as the Ukrainians lined up in their customary 4-4-2 formation. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk would continue to be a vital cog in midfield – the three time Ukranian player of the year is also the country’s highest capped player to date, turning out an impressive 118 times for the national side including last night.
Sweden began in a 4-3-3 formation that included their own Jekyll & Hyde player in Ibrahimovic given a starting berth. On his day Zlatan can be a superstar, a trait that often transmits through to the rest of the team, however if he’s playing poorly his body language often appears to be reflected by his cohorts allowing for the opposition to capitalise. Kim Kallstrom would be another key player for a Swedish side who had a combined average age of 28 years.
The game started with a rather slow pace with both Ukraine & Sweden enjoying early spells of possession as well as exchanging two early shots that drifted wide of the post. Ukraine then began to get on top, enjoying the bulk of the possession before Kallstrom picked up a yellow for Sweden for bringing down Gusev just inside his own half, allowing an opportunity for the ball to go into the box. Despite it looking like a one sided affair, Sweden managed to form an attack on 15 minutes and only good hands by Pyatov and a poor touch from a Swedish attacker allowed Ukraine to clear their lines and re-organise – a sign that their defence isn’t perhaps up to scratch.
The first half continued in a similar vein with Shevchenko spurning another good chance by dragging his right footed shot wide of Isaksson’s far post, much to the ‘keeper’s relief. Sweden’s own hero Ibrahimovic was equally as wasteful as Sheva when he cut inside before unleashing a drive that was so spectacular that it went out for a throw in. With 34 minutes gone in the contest, Isaksson was tested for the first time when Voronin drove forward and hit a shot that was palmed away comfortably by PSV ‘stopper. Ukraine continued their barrage on the Swedish goal when Konoplienka flashed a speculative effort just wide of the post, if it was on target Isaksson may have been in trouble.
As we approached half time though, Yarmolenko was handed the best opening of the first 45 when Shevchenko’s header across goal was met by the Dynamo Kiev striker, however his low drive was blocked well by Olsson. Despite all of the pressure from the home side it was the Swede’s who nearly took the lead through star man Ibrahimovich. A delightful ball into the box by Larsson found the head of the unmarked Ibrahimovich who could only succeed in hitting the post with his header that he directed back across goal – an opening that really should have heralded the first goal of the match.
It was Ukraine who had the final opportunity of the first half, Gusev’s ball deep into the penalty area found Konoplienka once more, but he was only able to fire his volley sporadically over the bar under minimal pressure. It was evident that Ukraine’s chances weren’t falling to the right men despite them splitting open the Swedish defence time and time again.
Into the second half and it was the side ranked 17th in the world who opened the scoring on 51 minutes as Ibrahimovich slotted home a neat cross from Kim Kallstrom to give the Swede’s something of an undeserved lead; an accomplished finished nonetheless by the lanky striker.
Just as Sweden were looking to settle on their 1-0 lead it was wiped out as the “written in the stars” story came to fruition with Shevchenko glancing the ball into the net from Yarmolenko’s pin point cross – cue mass celebration in the stadium that had been described as, “The Custard Bowl” due to the sea of yellow. It really was one of those special moments where Ukraine united to become one and celebrate the goal of the country’s favourite son.
As soon as everyone was sitting back down again following the celebrations of Shevchenko’s equaliser, they were back up again after the national hero nicked in at the front post to glance another header between the goalkeeper and the front stick – cue delirium amongst everyone once more. Sometimes they say “it was in the script”, but no one could have scripted this turn around or the way in which it happened.
Sweden’s manager then opted to make a quick double change in an attempt to stem the tide of the game by bringing on Svensson for Toivonen & Wilhelmsson for Larsson just six minutes later as the game wore into its closing stages. It was becoming apparent that Sweden now had the momentum and Elm in particular was looking dangerous after he hit two shots despite them not troubling Pyatov between the sticks.
Despite extensive pressure from the visitors though and another flurry of substitutions it just wasn’t to be as Ukraine rode out the storm excellently. Wilhelmsson was denied by Pyatov once more whilst former Bolton striker Johan Elmander squandered a golden opportunity when put through one-on-one by his team mate – no wonder Bolton let him go to Turkey. The final chance though fell the way of makeshift centre forward Olof Mellberg, however his strike from inside the box just looped onto the roof of the net as Ukraine claimed all three points – leaving Sweden teetering on the edge of failure even at this early stage.