Ukraine made a dream start to UEFA EURO 2012 as a quickfire double from their captain, Andriy Shevchenko, earned a famous comeback victory against Sweden.
The co-hosts had had marginally the better of the first half to the audible delight of the majority of the crowd in Kyiv, only to fall behind to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s close-range finish in the 52nd minute. As in the day’s early Group D game between England and France, the lead proved short-lived as Shevchenko scored their first UEFA European Championship finals goal with a powerful header. The same player, for so long his country’s talisman, then put them in front in the 62nd minute and urged on by a passionate crowd, Ukraine preserved that advantage to mark their tournament debut in memorable fashion.
Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin had emphasised the youth of his squad on the eve of the match, yet his starting lineup belied that. Only two players – Yevhen Selin and Yevhen Konoplyanka – were making their competitive debuts, and that experience proved invaluable as the co-hosts settled quickly amid a raucous atmosphere. Sweden are no novices either, however, and were first to threaten as Andriy Pyatov punched away Ibrahimovic’s curling left-wing cross.
The home side’s first chance of note came on the counterattack as Ukraine broke swiftly to give themselves an extra man on the retreating Swedish rearguard. Shevchenko exchanged passes with Andriy Yarmolenko, whose return left the Ukraine captain with only Andreas Isaksson to beat, but the angle proving too much for Shevchenko who pulled his effort across the face of goal.
Not for nothing did Sweden manage 31 goals in their ten qualifying fixtures, and they were soon pressing again as Markus Rosenberg – preferred to Johan Elmander up front – latched on to Ola Toivonen’s header to draw a save down low from Pyatov. The goalkeeper was left stranded six minutes by half-time, Sebastian Larsson’s pinpoint cross being met by the head of Ibrahimovic, but the ball clipped the outside of the goalkeeper’s left-hand post and Ukraine survived.
They were not so fortunate seven minutes into the second period. Kim Källström retrieved Larsson’s deep right-wing cross and his low ball back across goal presented Ibrahimovic with a simple prodded finish. For the first time the stadium fell silent, yet within three minutes the noise was louder than ever as Ukraine hit back. Yarmolenko was the architect, cutting on to his left foot to deliver a fine cross from the right, and Shevchenko thundered in to thump a header past Isaksson.
If the decibel level had increased with that, seven minutes later it reached deafening proportions as Konoplyanka swung in a corner from the left and another Shevchenko header beat Isaksson at his near post. Again Ibrahimovic – who had lost Shevchenko for the second goal – led the Sweden charge, Pyatov beating away his fierce shot but when first Elmander then Olof Mellberg both sent shots too high, Sweden’s final chance had gone. Ukraine will go into their next game, against France in Donetsk on Friday, as Group D’s early leaders; Sweden will hope to give their sizeable support more to cheer back here against England.