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Blokhin wary of 'tornado' effect against Swedes
Published : 11 Jun 2012 00:47:13Rss feed
Ukraine legend Oleg Blokhin knows what pressure is like at the top level of football but even the Euro 2012 co-hosts' coach is unsure how his side will perform against Sweden in their opening Group D match on Monday.
The 59-year-old former European footballer of the year is experiencing his second major championships as national team coach after guiding Ukraine to the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals.
But he admitted in typically colourful style that he was not sure how the players will react to playing in front of a home crowd in a major competition.
"Yes, it's like a tornado that could throw us in an unknown direction," the former Dynamo Kiev icon told uefa.com.
"When I took over I immediately set the goal to win the tournament since we are the hosts. So let's split the winners' medal between Ukraine and Poland!"
France against England may be the group's glamour clash but both Ukraine and Sweden know that a decisive result in their opener would give them a great chance of upsetting the predictions and progressing to the last eight.
Blokhin, who was an outstanding player winning the European Footballer of the year accolade in 1975 when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, has not had the best of results in the run-in to the championship.
But he said the results are irrelevant, particularly after the last reverse -- a 2-0 loss to Turkey, which he blamed on 11 players being ill with food poisoning.
"You should not assign too much importance to friendly matches -- and a (good) performance is not possible with 11 sick players," he reflected.
Another Ukrainian football icon, Andrei Shevchenko, may be a shadow of the player that once terrorised top European club defences but another of his 2006 World Cup veterans, midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, is still an effective force.
Tymoshchuk, a member of the outstanding Zenit Saint Petersburg side that won the 2008 UEFA Cup trophy, will be required to martial the younger generation coming through such as the promising Russian-born Dynamo Kiev midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko.
Blokhin, who played in two World Cups in 1982 and 1986, says, however, that their youth will not be an excuse for wilting on stage.
Instead he told uefa.com he hoped the younger players would stand up to the pressure.
"These guys have to face up to it, whether they like it or not. I said back in 2010 that it was time to revamp the national team.
"They may not win anything but they're going to gain precious experience for the future, although of course I hope we go a long way in the competition."
For all Sweden's solidity they do possess a player who, if in the mood, can change the outcome of a game -- AC Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The trouble is neither his own team nor his opponents know what frame of mind he will turn up in: the one that scored a stunning goal in Euro 2004 aganst Italy or the moody, brooding one that so often has failed to shine in major games.
Sweden coach Erik Hamren, though, struck a gloomy figure and hardly an inspirational public message to his squad when he declared earlier in the week that his side were the underdogs.
"We've played Ukraine three times in the last few years and we've won one, lost one and drawn the other. There's not much between the two sides," he said.
"But they've got the support of the home country. That's the reason why they're obviously favourites. Not many host countries lose their opening matches of the tournament."
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