Preview: World cup debutantes Ukraine have barely existed as a country
(Ukraine split from the former U.S.S.R. in 1991). Make no mistake, however,
Ukraine is no stranger to international soccer and is a soccer-crazed country
that has plenty of history at the international and club levels. Ukraine
is coached by former European Footballer of the Year Oleg Blokhin, who has also
participated in two World Cups for U.S.S.R., and played in over 100
international matches. Blokhin is a living legend, and probably the the
best soccer player who was ever born in the country. The one and only
reason for any doubt in that regard is Ukraine's current star striker, Andriy
Shevchenko, European Footballer of the Year in 2004, and one of the best players
in the world in anyone's book.
Led by a coach with plenty of experience and tremendous credibility among his
countrymen, as well as a superstar who carry the team on his shoulders, Ukraine
is ranked 12th and is poised for their chance at something special in 2006.
They handily won their World Cup qualifying group, which included
Denmark, along with Euro 2004 winners
Greece, and shouldn't have a lot of
trouble getting out of their first round group along with their main rival
Spain. The one question mark for the team is the knee injury Shevchenko
suffered in early May while playing for his club team AC Milan, but he should be
ready to go by beginning of the tournament in June.
Result: Ukraine fulfilled it's dream of a Cinderella run in the 2006
FIFA World Cup. Many will say that the team benefited from a weak starting
group, or that they drew the weakest group winner in Switzerland. While
that is probably true, the top eight finish still has to be viewed as impressive.