Monday, 11 June 2012. Ukraine made their debut at the European Championships as co-hosts of the 2012 edition. Ukraine’s protagonist and national icon Andriy Shevchenko won his compatriots’ hearts and wrote a new chapter for the Eastern European country on the continental stage.The football icon of Ukraine, Shevchenko was the one who came up with the goods for the Ukrainians at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv at Euro 2012.
Having essayed the role of a ball boy at the very same stadium, it was, in a sense, poetic justice that Shevchenko rolled back the years as he spearheaded Ukraine’s attack – quite literally – in ensuring a debut win for the co-hosts at the expense of Sweden and Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv. The then 35-year old recalled his predatory instincts to see Ukraine through in their first ever match at the European Championship finals.
SCORELESS FIRST HALF
Ukraine had controlled much of the first half and had even come close to breaking the deadlock, but somehow the Swedes were able to contain the Ukrainians’ threat. Ibrahimovic came within a whisker of scoring the first goal of the match near the end of the first half, but his effort grazed off the post and the scores remained level as both sets of players headed down the tunnel at half-time.
SPECTACULAR SECOND HALF
But it was actually the second half when the game truly came alive. Frustrated by the co-hosts during the entire first half, the Swedes were able to breach the Ukrainians’ defence as Ibrahimovic slotted the ball home from close range in the 52nd minute to give the Scandinavians the lead, but their joy was short-lived.
Ukraine, now trailing by a goal, stared at potential defeat, but as they say “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”. So was the case in this match, as Shevchenko stepped in to inspire Ukraine in a spectacular come-from-behind win to make history at Euro 2012. Barely three minutes had elapsed since Sweden’s opener when Shevchenko headed home from a cross delivered by his namesake Andriy Yarmolenko to restore parity in the tie.
And Sweden were still recovering from this blow when Shevchenko turned the tide around in Ukraine’s favour. Once again he justified his price tag of £30.8 million that Chelsea’s Eastern European owner Roman Abramovich had spent on the former Dynamo Kyiv forward, when he headed the ball home from a corner to send the home crowd into equal parts of delirium and ecstasy.
SHEVCHENKO – UKRAINE’S PROTAGONIST
He was taken off in the 81st minute to resounding applause and appreciation from the audience in the stadium. In a sense, he had completed a full circle in his playing career – starting out at Dynamo Kyiv (the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv hosts Dynamo Kyiv’s home matches) amongst its youth ranks, and in the twilight of his career leading his nation to international glory on home soil, in fact in the very stadium where he began his glorious playing spell.
Even though Ukraine went on to lose their subsequent matches in the group stage, the exploits of Andriy Shevchenko ensured that they finished above Sweden in their group and avoided a humiliating exit from the continental tournament, given the fact that they were co-hosts of the tournament. The other host country, Poland, couldn’t achieve this feat as they finished bottom of their and did not win a single match in the group stage.
Nine years on, Ukraine are preparing for their third appearance at the Euros and this time too Shevchenko will play an indispensable role – that of the team’s manager – as he leads his young charges this summer in a group that also contains Austria, the Netherlands and North Macedonia