Today at Euro 2012: Ukraine v Sweden

 

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The Independent Football

Ukraine may be ranked 52nd in the world but manager Oleg Blokhin is setting his sights on a successful campaign, despite Group D looking a difficult one to navigate out of.

The co-hosts play Sweden in their opening fixture with national anticipation at an all-time high.

"[Hosting the tournament is] like a tornado that could throw us in an unknown direction," Blokhin said. "When I took over I immediately set the goal to win the tournament since we are the hosts."

A heavy bout of food poisoning has hampered Ukraine in the build-up, meaning they did not manage to field their best XI in friendlies. After losing to Turkey and Austria, Blokhin hopes that his younger players can handle the expectation of the nation's supporters.

"They may not win anything, but they're going to gain precious experience for the future, although of course I hope we go a long way in the competition," he said.

A lack of goals means that they have problems in attack. Their main striker, Artem Milevskiy, scored just six times for Dynamo Kiev this season. The talismanic Andrei Shevchenko is now 35 and there are doubts as to whether he can play an integral part.

The illness which swept through the squad has gone, but there remain questions over who will play – not because Blokhin has an embarrassment of riches but because all 23 players have largely the same, underwhelming, ability.

Their opposition, Sweden, are fully fit but captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic thinks the roar of the home crowd may help the Ukrainians. "I have always said that 50 per cent of football is about the spectators and atmosphere," he said. "How the fans react and chant, that's what gives you adrenaline and motivation. "When things are hard on the pitch, the fans' support can lift you 10 to 20 per cent."

Player to watch : Kim Kallstrom

The general consensus is that the performances of Zlatan Ibrahimovic will determine whether or not Sweden qualify to the latter stages of the tournament, but their majestic central midfielder, Kim Kallstrom, is equally important to their cause.

Winning a number of trophies while plying his trade at Lyon, he has become the heartbeat of a functional but aesthetically-pleasing Erik Hamren national side. That quality, however, is marred by a chronic lack of goals, especially at club level.

Kallstrom hasn't always been so goal-shy. Earlier in his career, he was renowned for hitting the net a number of times a season, and an exceptional free-kick specialist. When allowed – sometimes difficult in a team boasting Ibrahimovic – he is at the front of the queue for set-pieces, as the Netherlands found to their cost in qualifying.

Supporters of Kallstrom's second club, Djurgardens, talk of wicked strikes from a standing start and of a wide midfielder capable of direct running and hoodwinking trickery.

Now bound to a central base, he still has flair in his locker – not only in his dribbling, important in the middle, but an expansive range of passing.

That technical presence of mind to launch quick counter-attacks will serve the Swedes well against France and England, but facing Ukraine Kallstrom's main function will be to control the game alongside Anders Svensson. Behind the attacking quartet, the pair's partnership is one of the best in Europe.

Kick-off Tonight, Kiev, 7.45pm (BBC 1) Ref C Cakir (Tur)

Odds: Ukraine 6-4 Draw 11-5 Sweden 7-4

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