Kiev. Ukraine fans were indebted to their former European Players of the Year for a comeback win over Sweden in their Euro 2012 Group D opener in Kiev as Andrei Shevchenko rolled back the years and proved coach Oleg Blokhin made the right call in keeping faith with him.
Shevchenko had missed half of the season through assorted injuries and looked sluggish and off the pace in the early stages.
But Blokhin had had a dream everything would come together and so it proved.
Suddenly, injury-hit months melted away and Shevchenko leapt like a man a decade younger than his 35 years to head two superb goals to cancel out Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s opener for the fancied Swedes.
“I feel great — it was an historic game for us, it’s a victory,” grinned Shevchenko, who made his debut back in 1995.
“I feel like 20 years, not 35!
“If I can choose my dreams I want to dream of a day like that, it’s a fantastic day.
“I want to thank everyone who worked with me the last year-and-a-half — I had so many knee and back problems. Now I am fit thanks to them.”
Shevchenko’s quickfire headers on 55 and 62 minutes came in the immediate slipstream of Ibrahimovic’s close range opener which looked as if it might ruin the party for the Ukrainian fans celebrating their country’s first (co-)hosting of a tournament.
When Shevchenko climbed in front of Ibrahimovic to make it 2-1 he raced to Blokhin as the apprentice to the sorcerer and the two men warmly embraced.
“Andrei didn’t believe me when I told him I had dreamt he would score two goals,” smiled Blokhin, European footballer of the year back in 1975 and like Shevchenko, who won the accolade in 2004, a favourite son of Dynamo Kiev.
“They played for a draw and had only one man up front in Ibrahimovic. Then they did not indulge in fair play as we had a man down when they scored their goal,” said the portly Blokhin.
“I congratulate the team, though, for scoring two goals although we weren’t too good in the final minutes.”
Even so, Blokhin said it was one in the eye for his and the team’s critics.
“Everyone had criticized us, saying we were badly prepared. We proved the contrary!”
Shevchenko, who was applauded at the post match press conference, had the last word.
“It’s a great day for Ukraine, but there are still two matches to prepare for. We are very happy but we know we still have two tough matches which await.”