The grand old man of Ukrainian football lived out his dream at the Olympic Stadium in KIev on Monday night as Andriy Shevchenko scored twice in six minutes to give Ukraine the points against Sweden.
With neither of these sides expected to pull up trees in this tournament it wasn’t unduly surprising that the opening quarter hour passed with neither keeper being tested. Nor was it a surprise that, when the first moment of danger arrived, it was Zlatan Ibrahimovic who created it.
Sweden had begun brightly, almost in defiance of the hostile atmosphere inside the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, but it was inevitably Ukraine, roared on by their home crowd, that dominated the opening passages of play. But Andreas Isaksson in the Swedish goal remained untroubled despite the play buzzing around the periphery of his area.
On 17 minutes we had our first taste of goalmouth action when Ibrahimovic spun a ball across the Ukraine box which Pyatov punched into the body of Ola Toivonen. But it came at the Swede too quickly and bounced towards Sebastien Larsson who was also unable to take advantage.
Kallstrom then fired over from distance before Ukraine mounted their first threat, breaking at pace before 36 year old talisman Andriy Shevchenko dragged his shot wide of Isaksson’s far post. Three minutes later and former Liverpool player Voronin was the width of a credit card from connecting with Nazarenko’s ball over the top of the Swedish defence.
With so much of Sweden’s hopes vested in Ibrahimovic, his growing ineffectiveness must have worried the traveling support while, in contrast, Ukraine were beginning to provide genuine excitement for their fans.
With ten minutes left until the break, Voronin stung Isaksson’s palms from 25 yards before Konoplyanko then sent a curling effort just beyond the back post from wide on the left. Moments later Shevchenko saw his effort deflected across the six yard box where Yarmalenko’s fierce shot drew a superb block from Andreas Granqvist.
Finally, Ibrahimovic threw in his tuppence worth at the other end, a pre-cursor to a far more influential second half performance, finding acres of space at the end of Rasmus Elm’s cross, only to direct his downward header past Pyatov but off the outside of the post.
Seven minutes after the break and Sweden went ahead, With Ukraine full back Selin down injured, Seb Larsson played on, delivering a cross to the back post. The clearing header was missed by Yarmolenko and the ball ran through to Kallstrom. His low ball back into the danger area was met by Ibrahimovic and his poked effort gave Pyatov no chance.
It was cruel on Ukraine who had been the more adventurous of the sides, but three minutes later any sense of injustice was erased. Selin burst forwards and played a ball to the right where Yarmalenko chipped a cross into the danger area. Judging his run perfectly, Shevchenko met it and powered a header home from six yards out.
The host side now had their tails up. Selin shot wildly over as the pressure on Sweden intensified before Voronin controlled a delicately chipped ball inside the Swedish box. His shot was deflected away for a corner, which Konoplyanka took, finding the run of Shevchenko who beat Ibrahimovic to the flight of the ball, guiding his header inside the near post to give Ukraine the lead.
In an attempt to wrestle back the initiative, Swedish manager Erik Hamren sent on the vastly experienced Anders Svensson for Toivonen, and Christina Wilhelmsson for Larsson. But Elm managed only to hook a through ball into the hands of Pyatov as Ukraine continued to dominate play. Johan Elmander was also sent in to battle, replacing the largely anonymous Rosenberg.
Elm took up Larsson’s position on the right and Olsson began to push on from full back down the left as Sweden chased an equaliser. On 76 minutes it nearly came when Ibrahimovic played a neat one-two before blasting a shot on target that Pyatov scooped away in unorthodox fashion. The Ukrainian keeper then collected an effort from Wilhelmsson as the hosts appeared to tire.
With ten minutes remaining Shevchenko was withdrawn, deservedly receiving the acclaim of the 70,00 strong crowd. Voronin followed four minutes later, he too applauded to the rafters. All of this contributed to a dangerous sense of premature celebration and Wilhelmsson almost played in a surprisingly advanced Mellberg with five minutes remaining.
Those final minutes were driven by the desperation of the Swedes and with thirty seconds on the clock Elmander split the Ukrainian defence, running on to a flick from Ibrahimovic but flinging his shot high over Pyatov’s bar.
In the third minute of added time Mellberg got on the end of Elm’s cross and looped a volley just over. But in the end Oleg Blokhin’s men showed enough poise to keep the Scandinavians at bay and usher in three points that puts them well on the way to qualifying for the next phase.
Ukraine: Pyatov; Gusev, Khacheridi, Mikhalik, Selin; Konoplyanka (Devic 90+2), Tymoshchuk, Nazarenko, Yarmolenko; Shevchenko (Milevskiy 80), Voronin (Rotan 84).
Subs not used: Goryainov (gk), Koval (gk), Butko, Kucher, Shevchuk, Aliyev, Garmash, Rakitskiy, Devic, Seleznyov.
Sweden: Isaksson; Lustig, Mellburg, Granqvist, M Olsson; S Larsson (Wilhelmsson 68), Elm, Ibrahimovic, Kalstrom, Toivonen (Svensson 62); Rosenberg (Elmander 71).
Subs not Used: Hansson (gk), Wiland (gk), Antonsonn, J Olsson, Safari, Bajrami, Holmen, Wernbloom, Hysen.
Bookings: Kallstrom (11), Elm (82).
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).
Extratime Man of the Match: Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine).
Simon O'Gorman began reporting for Extratime in 2010. He remembers Milltown and Flower Lodge and, back in the mists of time, saw Diego Maradona play at Lansdowne Road. He now lives in Co Kildare and reports on Shamrock Rovers among others. Simon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org