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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Shevchenko sets his sights on quarterfinals

DONETSK: Having created the sensation of the first Euro 2012 matchday by inspiring Ukraine to victory over Sweden, Andrei Shevchenko now turns his thoughts to Friday’s opponents France.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 on Friday 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.”Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin says he could change his team for the game with France, having admitted to concerns over the nervousness displayed by his side in the closing stages against Sweden.”We still made tactical mistakes and we did not have enough time to prepare,” he said. “We can still play better. Now we have three points, and we will alter things tactically for the matches to come.”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.”Although hoping to see a greater cutting edge from his forward players, Blanc is mindful of the momentum that Ukraine will carry into Friday’s game at Donbass Arena.”The country is in a state of euphoria,” he said.”The people will be behind the team more than ever now. It’s going to be a hard game, there’s no doubt about it, but we will prepare ourselves in the same way we have planned.”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, after he sat out the game against England due to an ankle injury.The Rennes midfielder trained with the rest of the squad on Tuesday but Blanc could elect to keep faith with Alou Diarra, who put an underwhelming season with Marseille behind him to produce an impressive performance against the English.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.

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