No firepower and no fortune – and now no hosts left at party
Ukraine thought only one man could save them, whatever condition he was in
The Donbass Arena
Wednesday 20 June 2012
Tournament football is nearly always poorer for the hosts departing and amid the euphoria of England's qualification, consider a thought for Ukraine who faltered on the biggest night of their professional lives.
Although a 2006 World Cup quarter-final defeat in their only previous tournament outing since achieving independence 21 years ago runs it close in that regard, last night was the chance for a country so often partitioned through history to unite in the hope of keeping host nation representation alive.
The mood changed in the Donbass Arena as news came through that Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin had not been bluffing as many anticipated and that talismanic striker Andriy Shevchenko's knee injury was sufficiently restrictive to omit him from the starting line-up.
Instead, Marko Devic and Artem Milevskiy, of Metalist Kharkiv and Dynamo Kiev respectively, were handed the responsibility of summoning the firepower to defeat England.
Blokhin stood in his technical area dictating troop movement, waving his players forward and urging them to embrace the opportunity rather than let it consume them.
His charges responded. England sat deep and invited wave after wave of attack with Devic and Andriy Yarmolenko particularly threatening.
Denys Garmash flashed a shot over Joe Hart's crossbar and England's tight two banks of four were compressed enough to restrict Ukraine to a series of speculative efforts from distance.
John Terry was required to block two such efforts as Ukraine grew in confidence before Yarmolenko curled a left-foot effort which Hart saved with relative ease.
Just as France had found in the same stadium eight days earlier, England's defensive resilience denies space in central areas making opening them up a test of Ukraine's notoriously clever interplay.
Bereft of Shevchenko and the former Liverpool forward Andriy Voronin, Yarmolenko took a more prominent role and nearly weaved his way through courtesy of a fine solo run only to be denied by Joleon Lescott.
Yevhen Konoplyanka almost stopped at one point, urging left-back Yevhen Selin to push forward and provide the requisite width to stretch England but this was a night in which neither side would over commit until it became absolutely necessary.
Despite palpably standing offside, the flag stayed down for Milevskiy's moment, but he headed over unmarked from close range.
Then strike partner Devic was denied as his effort looped up in the air from Hart's attempted save and down over the line before Terry could make a dramatic clearance. Ukraine were denied, not by a Russian linesman, but instead by a Hungarian one.
Due in no small part to that injustice, Devic and Milevskiy were unable to add to their combined 10 goals from 73 caps despite their best efforts.
England were left to consider a degree of tournament karma after Frank Lampard's disallowed goal at the World Cup in South Africa but for Ukraine the feeling their dream was slipping away created a desperation only one man could answer, whatever condition he was in.
Cue Sheva. Devic's evening was brought to an end and Shevchenko ran on for his 111th cap to a rapturous ovation and with 20 minutes to rescue his country.
He never had a chance to score his 49th international goal – his only notable contribution was a yellow card for hacking at Ashley Young – and so this was a sad probable end to a career fittingly bookended by records. Ukraine's youngest ever goalscorer as a 19-year-old in 1996, the 35-year-old became their oldest with a brace against Sweden.
They proved Ukraine's only goals of a tournament for which they must now play the strangely juxtaposed role of distant hosts.
England's supporters sang "We're not going home". Ukraine are but at least they don't have far to travel.
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