Home-town hero Shevchenko leads Ukraine to win | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 11.06.2012
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Home-town hero Shevchenko leads Ukraine to win

Led by a stellar performance from veteran captain Andriy Shevchenko, Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine beat Sweden 2-1 in their first match of the tournament. Earlier, England and France drew in group D's other match.

The Olympic Stadium in Kyiv was completely decked in yellow and blue - the national colors of both teams on the pitch. But judging from the roars from the crowd, most of the voices in the blue and yellow sea of flags and face paint belonged to Ukrainians.

Ukraine spent the first half looking for counterattacking opportunities, the team's specialty, and was able to create a few chances that put Sweden's back line to the test. But by far the best chance of the first half went to Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who put a header off the post in the 39th minute.

But Ibrahimovic made good in the second half - teammate Sebastian Larsson made a long cross to Kim Kallstrom from the right side, and Ibrahimovic was in perfect position in front of the goal to receive Kallstrom's quick pass and deflect the ball in.

The fear that Ukraine might lose during its moment in the spotlight was short-lived, however, and it was thanks to long-time national team hero Andriy Shevchenko. The Dynamo Kyiv striker has 109 caps, and due to the fact that Ukraine had never previously played in a European Championship, was making his debut at the Euro 2012.

The 35-year-old Shevchenko didn't disappoint, equalizing against Sweden just three minutes after Ibrahimovic's goal. Andriy Yarmolenko sent a perfect cross to Shevchenko a few meters from goal, and the veteran Ukrainian headed the ball home.

Just six minutes later, Shevchenko found the smallest of gaps between Swedish defender Mikael Lustig and the right post on a corner from Yevhen Konoplyanka to put Ukraine ahead 2-1. Three subs in the last 15 minutes brought fresh momentum to the Swedish offense, but Ukraine held on for the win. Ukraine lead group D after France and England drew earlier in the day.

Group favorites draw

In that match in Donetsk, England took a surprise lead, despite their captain change, subsequent coaching change, injury worries and a suspended star striker in Wayne Rooney.

Roy Hodgson's team played a disciplined defensive game, and pushed forward with purpose in their relatively rare passages of possession. It was little surprise, however, when the side scored from a set piece rather than open play.

England's Joleon Lescott (R) celebrates a goal against France with team mates

England's rather makeshift lineup is playing without the typical weight of expectancy

Captain Steven Gerrard floated a long free-kick from the right flank towards the back post, and defender Joleon Lescott - himself a beneficiary of an injury to Gary Cahill - rose highest to head the ball home.

Lescott's goal might have been England's second had midfielder James Milner capitalized on an incisive early breakaway, when he rounded keeper Hugo Lloris but missed the open goal. The 30th-minute strike was not entirely against the run of play, but it did prompt the French to raise their game.

When teammates compete

The French attacking trio of Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema began to get more involved in the game after England's opener.

It was Manchester City star Nasri who found the net after a typically slick, prolonged buildup in the English half. Nasri took a touch to settle himself, then hit a curling right-footed shot into Joe Hart's bottom corner. The two players are teammates at club level, and Nasri might have enjoyed beating his buddy from such distance.

France's coach Laurent Blanc (R) hugs England's coach Roy Hodgson after the Euro 2012 Group D match

No coach wants an opening game defeat, Hodgson and Blanc might be satisfied

France controlled the remaining six minutes of the first half after equalizing, with the best chance to take the lead falling to Benzema - who showed an appetite to shoot, even from distance, throughout.

The second half was much as the first before it, only without goals. France had by far the most of possession, while England seemed more positive and direct with the ball.

Both sides were making chances but Hart was markedly busier than his opposite number Lloris in the French goal. The English keeper had some valuable assistance from his teammates on more than one occasion too, with Rooney-replacement Danny Welbeck and Gerrard both blocking shots that might well have decided the game for France.

Francemanaged to extend their unbeaten run under Laurent Blanc to 22 matches, while England avoided a difficult start to an already troubled tournament. Both coaches are liable to be content with the result, albeit while hoping for far greater things from their teams in the coming days.

Author: Mark Hallam, Matt Zuvela
Editor: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill