“Keep your powder dry and strike at the signal”
Ukraine took the game to Sweden from the off, proving adept on the ball. Tymoshchuk and Nazarenko took a calm control of midfield, trying to feed the front players of Ukraine. Sweden remained solid and doubled up on the talented Ukrainian widemen, Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko, crowding out the space. Ukraine couldn’t quite switch the play quick enough, and despite the best efforts of Voronin and Shevchenko to add bodies in wide areas, Ukraine kept hitting a solid Swedish wall.
Sweden began to look more of a threat after 20 minutes or so, with Ibrahimovic taking up some excellent positions. He was difficult to pick up for Ukraine, his brain working an extra second or so quicker than the Ukrainian defenders. A lovely shaped cross by him troubled Ukraine, with Pyatov punching clear. Sweden looked physically strong and had the edge over Ukraine in that regard, but they were reliant on Ibrahimovic to provide a spark.
Despite Ibrahimovic showing his class, Ukraine still posed Sweden a big threat. Their chance came after a beautiful counter-attack resulted in Shevchenko being slipped in, a fine run made by the Ukrainian legend, but he fluffed his lines. Indeed, Shevchenko didn’t stop moving and asking questions of the Swedish defence, using his intelligence in dragging defenders all over the place. Unfortunately for Ukraine, they were unable to capitalise on the space created.
Ukraine continued to threaten, with Konoplyana drifting off the left-flank and firing close from 25-yards. Soon after Ukraine formed another glorious move, resulting in Shevchenko having his shot blocked, before heading it back across where Yarmolenko was waiting, but his shot was blocked from close range. Straight up the other end, Ibrahimovic found space in the box and he planted a deft header towards goal, only to see it touch the post and go out.
Sweden took the game to Ukraine at the start of the second half and they got their reward. With Selin down injured, Sweden found some space on the right-hand side. The ball was thrown in, where Yarmolenko feebly headed straight to Ibrahimovic who slotted nicely to put Sweden in front. 0-1.
Straight after, Ukraine attacked. The ball broke down the right with Yarmolenko finally getting into the game, he ran with vigour down the flank before flighting a beautiful cross right into the path of Shevchenko, who powered his header with aplomb into the back of the net. A lovely goal from Ukraine whose pace in the attack really showed. Shevchenko showed his intelligence in the box, creating space beautifully for the header. 1-1.
The game really opened up, with Ukraine playing with a real swagger. Konoplyanka was causing big problems with his pace and after an hour, he clipped the ball into Voronin beautifully, who turned and shot, which won a corner. The corner was flighted into the near post where Shevchenko had made a strong run and he glanced into the net with such class to send the home crowd in raptures. 2-1.
In the blistering Kyiv heat, the game became much more open as Sweden looked to get back in the game. Ukraine kept counter-attacking in turn and the match was an extremely interesting and entertaining affair. There were numerous half chances, before on 75 minutes, Ibrahimovic struck a half-volley from 25-yards which swerved but Pyatov just about dealt with it.
Both teams looked tired as the game wore on, with both defences dropping deep to cope with it. This created more space but a little vigour from the attacking players was lost. Sweden provided a couple of nervy moments for the hosts in the dying stages of the match, in particular when Ibrahimovic played Elmander clear through but he blazed it over the bar. The game petered out to a glorious win for Ukraine.
Andriy Shevchenko & Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The talismen of both lived up to expectations. Ibrahimovic showed immense class, drifting into clever places on the pitch. On the ball he was just as clever, clipping numerous passes that trouble Ukraine. He came close in the first half with a deft header, but it was the second half that he calmly finished for the breakthrough. However, all the headlines will be around Shevchenko, Ukrainian hero, who had a breathtakingly class game. He never stopped moving, incredible intelligence in his movement to create space for him and others. Despite fluffing a chance in the first-half, he remained composed in the second-half, scoring two beautiful headers.
Ola Toivonen & Kim Kallstrom
Both Swedish midfielders struggled to really make a consistent impact on the game, with their passing often wayward and constantly finding themselves in the wrong position. Toivonen was played out of position and it showed, lumbering down the Swedish left-flank finding the pace of Ukraine difficult to deal with. Kallstrom wasn’t he usual composed self and gave away possession cheaply in promising areas at times. Nazarenko and Tymoshchuk took control of the midfield for most of the game.
Both teams went to plan fairly accordingly. Ukraine stretched the pitch as much as possible, using their wingers as much as possible, a style they will replicate in other games in the tournament. The Ukrainian defence however, having been hit with injuries before the tournament, looked typically shaky. France, with the players available to them, will provide a stern test for said defence in the next game for Ukraine. Swift, fluid attack, shaky, open defence.
Sweden on the other hand kept things very tight and sought to counter mainly through hitting Ibrahimovic quite early. Sweden play quite a similar style to the current England team and are all set to take that into future games. The game looks all set to be a tight affair but with Ibrahimovic on the pitch, Sweden are capable of sucker-punching the opposition out of nowhere. Tight and solid team block but perhaps too reliant on Ibrahimovic at the other end. The likes of Larsson and Toivonen can hurt teams but both will struggle to make an impact with the way Sweden are set out, although if England sit back off them, they could find some joy.