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Ukraine's Shevchenko sets his sights on Euro 2012 quarters
Published : 15 Jun 2012 08:17:10
The sensation of the first Euro 2012 matchday, Ukraine icon Andrei Shevchenko will now seek to guide his country into the quarter-finals with victory over France on Friday.
The 35-year-old Dynamo Kiev striker rolled back the years to give the co-hosts a 2-1 win over Sweden on Monday, his headed second-half brace sending a wave of jubilation sweeping across the co-host nation.
As well as taking his international goal tally to 48, Shevchenko's match-winning intervention at Dynamo's Olympic Stadium also gave Ukraine control of Group D, as France and England drew their opening encounter 1-1.
The quarter-finals are therefore already within sight -- Ukraine will reach the last eight if they beat France in Donetsk, regardless of the result between England and Sweden in Kiev.
However, having doggedly battled knee and back problems in order to prove his fitness for his swansong international tournament, the former AC Milan and Chelsea striker does not want to look too far ahead.
"It's a great day for Ukraine, but we still have two matches to prepare for," he warned after the win against Sweden.
"Of course we're happy, but we know that we still have two very hard matches against France and England."
'Sheva' was involved in a minor car accident as he accompanied his wife to the airport after Monday's game but he was unharmed and took part in training on Wednesday evening at the Valeriy Lobanovsky Stadium in central Kiev.
"Shevchenko is a great striker," France right-back Mathieu Debuchy told the UEFA website.
"We'll have to mark him really closely because he can turn even the slightest opening into a goal. It's going to be hard because the fans will be 100 percent behind them. We'll need to be on the top of our game."
For all the nationwide euphoria, Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin was critical of his side's nervousness in the closing stages against Sweden and has attempted to dampen the excitement sparked by their victory.
"We've won one match," he said at Wednesday's press conference. "There's no reason to be euphoric. As a coach, I'm never happy.
"I don't think it was the best match in Ukraine's history. There were lots of mistakes. Some of them can be corrected, but we won't have enough time for the others."
France were left with mixed feelings after their draw against England, with pride at the manner in which they fought back to equalise tempered by disappointment that they did not exploit their dominance of possession.
There were glimpses of the slick football that yielded wins over Iceland, Serbia and Estonia in their warm-up games, but an over-reliance on shots from distance told its own story.
"It was frustrating for periods," conceded coach Laurent Blanc.
"We lacked a presence in front of goal sometimes. But we tried to play our style of football. We like playing balls in to feet and exchanging quick passes."
Blanc will be keen to turn his focus back to on-pitch matters, after showing signs of annoyance in Tuesday's press conference when he was asked about Samir Nasri's provocative goal celebration against England.
The 46-year-old coach must decide whether to grant Yann M'Vila an immediate return to his starting line-up.
The Rennes midfielder has returned to training following an ankle injury that kept him out of the game against England, but in his absence, Alou Diarra produced an assured display in the midfield holding role.
France may take heart from the fact that when they last met Ukraine, at Donbass Arena a year ago, the visitors ran out comfortable 4-1 winners, with Marvin Martin claiming a brace on his international debut.
However, with Shevchenko resurgent and the people of Ukraine expectant, Blanc is unlikely to enjoy such a comfortable evening on Friday.