Co-hosts Ukraine have been made to wait to join the UEFA EURO 2012 party but, as they prepare to kick off against Sweden in Group D, coach Oleh Blokhin is promising they will burst from the starting gate.
Anticipation has been high in Kyiv and across Ukraine ahead of the country’s UEFA European Championship debut and Blokhin captured the mood at his press conference on the eve of his team’s first competitive fixture since November 2009. “We’re like a good horse waiting for the race to start – we want to get going, but we’re still waiting,” he said. “Everyone wants to start but I have to calm my players down because the upcoming games will be very tough.”
The immediate obstacle for Ukraine is a Sweden team who have won all four of their outings this year, drawing considerable respect from Blokhin. “Sweden as a team work very well, they’ve been together for a long time and they’re a machine that runs very smoothly,” the Ukraine coach said. “If you think their team is just [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, you’d be mistaken. They have [Kim] Kallström and [Johan] Elmander, two experienced central defenders, they’re good in midfield and the full-backs are very strong. Ibrahimovic is a star but he can’t play alone.”
The Sweden captain contributed five of his side’s 31 qualifiying goals – a total fewer only than the Netherlands and Germany – and Blokhin’s opposite number Erik Hamrén is not planning to alter the approach that got his side to the final tournament. “We’re here because we’ve been an offensive team but it’s about the whole picture; we must be strong in attack and defence,” he said. “We have a few choices that are interesting, but we do have an offensive team and we want to play attacking football.”
That view was echoed by Blokhin, who anticipates a very different style from the dogged effort that got Ukraine to the 2006 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals on their sole previous tournament appearance. “The 2006 team was more organised and defensive – we couldn’t play any other way,” he said. “Now our team has changed, there are lots of younger players and lots who will finish their careers after EURO. The biggest problem was to find a balance, sometimes young players want to do more than they can. My team want to play attacking football; to get them to play defensively is very tough. They are young and exciteable and they want to attack.”
Sweden’s coach is also a tournament novice, unlike the 11 players in his squad with EURO finals experience – among them Elmander who, the coach confirmed, is available despite fracturing his right foot in mid-May. Hamrén, despite that lack of experience, betrayed no sign of nerves. “I always sleep well – I don’t know if it’s to do with my conscience,” he said. “I don’t have any problems sleeping but I dream a lot, and when I do, I dream about winning.” With a host nation sharing the same aspirations, a restful night for the coach is set to precede a considerable livelier evening at the Olympic Stadium.