Ukraine's Becks faces the unthinkable

Shevchenko has been his country's No 1 hitman for years but he may be left out for Wembley mission

He is the wrong side of 30, with a garlanded career behind him. There have been dark rumblings as to whether his wife may have led him to focus on the celebrity side of his career to the detriment of his football.

Every time he leaves the elephants' graveyard of Milan to play for the national team he seems to reach a new landmark. He may play at Wembley on Wednesday, or he may not, and nobody is quite sure whether the country really is best served by such a superannuated figure. When the geriatrics pull the bathchairs together to watch Watercolour Challenge – or whatever it is they do in their down-time at Milanello – you imagine Andriy Shevchenko and David Beckham find plenty to talk about.

So far, despite his lack of playing time at Milan – just two starts so far this season – and at Chelsea before that, Shevchenko's place in the Ukraine side has remained largely unchallenged. That is understandable, for with 39 international goals he is, by some distance, their top international goalscorer, but there have been indications this week that his position is no longer guaranteed.

"Unfortunately it's happened that Shevchenko has not appeared very often on the pitch this season," said the Ukraine coach, Oleksiy Mykhailychenko. "But he has great experience, a great desire to play and, I'm sure, a sporting rage.

"It will be much easier for the young players we are bringing in to develop if he is alongside them. These are not empty words that the team must be formed of an alloy of youth and experience. It is very difficult to achieve results with only young players or experienced players, so we're trying to create an alloy that will allow each to influence the other positively."

With Artem Kravets, the talented young Dynamo Kiev forward, currently injured, Mykhailychenko's options are more limited than they might have been. It is probable that Ukraine will start with a lone forward, and it would be contentious if the claims of Andriy Voronin, who has scored seven goals in his past seven games for Hertha Berlin, were overlooked for somebody who has barely featured this season.

There is a possibility that a second, deep-lying, striker could be included as well as the playmaker Oleksandr Aliev, and Shevchenko has fulfilled that role in the past, but again the argument is that Dynamo Kiev's Artem Milevskyi is the man in form.

Shevchenko was left out for the home game against Belarus, but dropping him now against England would be a seismic decision, and it may be that Mykhailychenko takes the more diplomatic route and works out a way to include him.

Shevchenko himself was unusually brusque when the issue of his lack of playing time was raised this week, which many have taken as evidence of his own frustrated awareness that the sands of time are running out on his career.

"Once again these questions!" Shevchenko said. "For me such things have never influenced my form for the national team. I hope it's the same this time."

He does, in fairness, have a point, for even in his worst days at Chelsea his form for Ukraine was unwavering. His apologists, and there are many, point out that he has scored half of Ukraine's four goals so far in qualifying, including the vital late penalty after coming off the bench in that game against Belarus. Against Croatia in October, though, Shevchenko was poor and, while the 0-0 draw was widely perceived as a positive result, there was also a perception that, had the forward line functioned as well as the defence, it might have been better.

Like Beckham, his desire to carry on his international career cannot be doubted, and it is clear he wants to give English fans a glimpse of what might have been at Chelsea. "England are one of the best teams in the word," Shevchenko said. "They have very strong players, real stars, and therefore we must meet them with collective play and commitment.

"Everybody has to play not at 100 per cent but at 150 per cent of their ability. A player who dreams of his best match should dream of doing it at Wembley. The atmosphere is really impressive, and for good footballers that is an advantage."

And Beckham? "We didn't discuss the game," Shevchenko added, "but we get on well and before leaving to catch our flights we arranged to meet up in London. He's playing really well at the moment."

And that, of course, is the biggest difference between them right now.

Probable team (4-2-3-1): Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk); Yarmash (Vorskla Poltava), Mykhalyk (Dynamo Kiev), Chyhrynskyi (Shakhtar), Shevchuk (Shakhtar); Tymoshchuk (Zenit St Petersburg), Levchenko (Groningen); Rotan (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Shevchenko (Milan), Aliev (Dynamo); Voronin (Hertha Berlin).

Wednesday's games

Group three: Northern Ireland v Slovenia (7.45pm, Sky Sports 3)

After yesterday's outstanding win over Poland, Nigel Worthington's team will be in good heart to reverse an away defeat in Slovenia suffered last October when they conceded twice in the last 10 minutes. They will then have only one home game left, against Slovakia, plus tough away trips to Poland and the Czech Republic.

Group four: Wales v Germany (7.45pm, Sky Sports 1)

Unlucky away defeats to Germany and Russia, the two powerhouses in this section, hampered a young Welsh squad even before the shocker against Finland. Now they need a repeat of the famous Cardiff victories over the Germans in 1991 and 2002 – a huge ask.

Group six: England v Ukraine (8pm, ITV1)

No matches in this section yesterday, so England retain a five-point lead over Croatia. Third-placed Ukraine, the only group opponents they have not yet met, have so far beaten Belarus with a last-minute penalty, won in Kazakhstan and drawn at home to Croatia.

Group eight: Italy v Republic of Ireland (7.50pm)

Overshadowed by the oval ball in Ireland recently, Giovanni Trapattoni's squad will be heroes again if they can achieve a result in Bari. The Irish have made a steady start to their campaign and will be popular visitors since Trapattoni and his assistants – Marco Tardelli and Liam Brady – are all revered figures in Italy.

Group nine: Scotland v Iceland (8pm, Sky Sports 2)

Hoping to chase Holland home in second place, the injury-plagued Scots must complete a double over Iceland, after holding on with 10 men in Reykjavik to win 2-1. Otherwise Chris Iwelumo will go to his grave cursing the miss at home to bottom side Norway.

Steve Tongue

Ukraine football factsheet

1 The Ukraine Football Federation were founded in 1991 after the country became independent of the Soviet Union.

2 In their first competitive international, Ukraine lost at home to Lithuania.

3 At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Ukraine reached the quarter-finals. In the last 16 they beat Switzerland in a penalty shoot-out, the opposition becoming the first team in World Cups not to score any spot-kicks.

But in the last eight they lost 3-0 to the eventual winners, Italy.

4 Former Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko is still in the squad but Sergei Rebrov (pictured left), who played 77 Premier League games for Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham (scoring just 11 goals), no longer figures.

5 A Ukrainian Footballer of the Year has been named since 1969 and the striker Oleg Blokhin, of Dynamo Kiev, won the award a staggering nine times in 10 seasons from 1972 to 1981.

6 Blokhin was part of the great Dynamo Kiev team – under the guidance of the lugubrious manager Valeri Lobanovski – who won the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1975 and 1986.

7 When Lobanovski, who also coached the USSR and Ukraine, died in 2002, he was given a state funeral.

8 Dynamo Kiev, 12 points clear with nine games left, are on course to win their 13th title in the 18 seasons since independence.

9 One team in the Ukrainian League has been known since 2001 as Arsenal Kiev (previously CSKA) and are now owned by the mayor of Kiev, Leonid Chernovetskyi.

10 Ukraine will jointly host Euro 2012 with Poland, although the Poles are involved in a long-running battle with Uefa about their suitability to stage the tournament. Ukraine will use grounds in Kiev, Donetsk, Lvov and Dnipropetrovsk.

Steve Tongue

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor