Football: Ukraine prove far too professional as hosts crash out
Ukraine 7 Great Britain 1
The Riverbank Arena
Tuesday 04 September 2012
One side was made up of full-time professionals, the other led by a captain who in the months before the Games sold scratchcards to try to muster much-needed funds for his team. If any sport appreciates the difference money makes it is football and nowhere is that more nakedly apparent than in this country. The haves have it all.
In the Paralympics it is the same, except with a radically different cast list. The captain trying to scratch together funds was Matt Dimbylow of Great Britain and there was little he could do yesterday to stop the host nation from being bundled out of the seven-a-side competition with one game in the group stage still to come.
Their conquerors were Ukraine, the defending champions. Yellow jerseys flitted here there and everywhere as pace and movement overwhelmed Britain. Four down after 15 minutes, it finished 7-1. Following Sunday's 3-0 defeat to Brazil it means tomorrow's meeting with the United States has no bearing on who will make the last four.
Ukraine beat the US 9-0 on Sunday and their full-time status has elevated them into a Paralympic league of their own. Wider Ukrainian success has been one of the themes of the Games – when Volodymr Antoniuk led his team on to the blue astroturf of the Riverbank Arena his nation were sitting fourth in the medal table and that is where they aim to finish come Sunday lunchtime.
Since Sydney 2000, Paralympic sport has been well provided for in Ukraine. It does not have to share handouts with Olympic athletes thanks to the tireless campaigning of Valeriy Shushkevich, a government minister and former disabled athlete. Since funding enabled Ukraine's seven-a-side footballers – seven-a-side is for those with cerebral palsy – to go full-time they have won the last two Paralympic gold medals, are world champions and favourites again.
"They are full-time – we are part-time," said Martin Sinclair, brother of Manchester City's Scott. "We only meet up once a month and they train like my brother. But we can't use that as an excuse – they were better than us on the day."
They were comfortably so, not that it was apparent from the support offered by a crowd around a thousand down on the 16,000 full house that had seen Britain lose to Brazil on Sunday.
In truth, there was not much for those in the Riverside to cheer. The contest was up after a quarter of an hour when another slick passing move created space for Oleksandr Devlysh to thunder a fourth goal past Craig Connell, Britain's overworked keeper.
There was finally something concrete to lift the crowd when Ibz Diallo's free-kick floated in, perhaps by design, more likely by misjudgement, midway through a second half that was better contested. "We didn't perform in the first half but we showed in the second we have bit of spirit," said Sinclair, a judgement generously acknowledged by their opponents.
"Great Britain were a decent and honourable opponent," said Anatolii Shevchyk, who scored twice in a minute to add to his four against the US. "In the first few minutes we were nervous, but after that we stopped noticing the fans and concentrated on the game. It was a pleasure to see so many came to cheer the teams on, even if they were mostly cheering for our opponent."
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