Blokhin has found Ukraine strategy to play Sweden
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -Despite a shaky looking defense in recent friendlies, Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin believes he has found the right strategy to play Sweden on Monday in the co-host's opening match at the European Championship.
Blokhin said Sunday he had already chosen his starting lineup, one day before Ukraine's first ever appearance at the competition.
He declined to give names, but indicated that only four players present during Ukraine's 1-0 loss to Sweden in August last year would start against the same opponent again.
"So you can't compare these matches even if Sweden won't have changed their style of play,'' Blokhin said.
Since his appointment 14 months ago, the former Soviet Union standout striker has been searching for a well-tuned team - a task which looked far from impossible with nine players in the 23-man Euro 2012 squad having played together all year at Dynamo Kiev.
He said veterans like Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Andriy Shevchenko must guide the young talents.
"They should show the example,'' Blokhin said. "Our young players sometimes want to do more than they can ... And they are very hungry now. They don't want to wait anymore to start the tournament. I have to calm down my players.''
Blokhin underlined his ongoing quest for a well-balanced team by using all 23 players in the last three warm-up games against Estonia, Austria and Turkey, with just Yevhen Konoplyanka and Marko Devic starting in all three matches.
Ukraine swept away Estonia 4-0, but was far less impressive against an injury-plagued Austria four days later, conceding three goals in a 3-2 defeat. Things worsened when Turkey outplayed Ukraine for a deserved 2-0 victory last week.
Some substitutions for the Turkey game were unplanned but unavoidable as 10 players got ill before the match after eating a bad salad at a German hotel, leaving some unable to play, according to Blokhin.
Ukraine's defensive worries are not new, Blokhin acknowledged in an interview with the online "Ukraine 2012'' magazine.
"We have problems related to both the central defenders and fullbacks,'' Blokhin said, adding that these troubles "have lasted since 2006.''
Blokhin said "our defenders do not even tackle properly ... They do not demonstrate the necessary level here.''
Not the ideal prospect when playing an opponent that has star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front.
"Ibrahimovic is a great player, one of the best in the world. He is in good shape,'' Tymoshchuk said. "But we are not going to concentrate on just Ibrahimovic. We look at Sweden as a team, not as individual players.''
Blokhin fully agreed with the opinion of the defensive midfielder, arguably his key player in Monday's game.
"If someone thinks (Sweden) is only Ibrahimovic, he is wrong,'' Blokhin said. "They have (Johan) Elmander, (Kim) Kallstrom, good midfielders, experienced defenders. As a whole, it's a good team.''
Veteran striker Shevchenko, who is playing his last tournament for the national team, said Ukraine won't focus on its defense too much.
"We have to score,'' said Shevchenko, Ukraine's all-time top scorer with 46 goals. "For our team, it is important to be balanced. There is no favorite in this game.''