Ukraine hopes to start surprise run vs. Sweden
Kyiv, Ukraine (Sports Network) - Ukraine opens its Euro 2012 tournament Monday against Sweden in its own capital city as the co-hosts hope to make more of an impact than expected this summer.
Ukraine, along with co-host Poland, are not predicted to be very successful on their home soil in the tournament, but the comfort of home can be undervalued. For the Ukrainians, in tough Group D, that will be even more important.
Although Ukraine avoided current world powers, like Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, it will still have to navigate a group that also includes France and England.
Midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, the most-capped player in team history, raised the bar for his country this summer.
"Our ambition should be the maximum because when you have a tournament in your home country, it is a once in a lifetime moment," Tymoshchuk said.
Tymoshchuk just suffered through the Champions League final loss with Bayern Munich, which lost to Chelsea at its own Allianz Arena on penalty kicks. Now, with the Ukraine, he will seek consolation in Euros.
Ukraine could play the entire tournament on its home soil, with only a game in Poland in the semifinals possible, should it make a long run in the event.
Coach Oleh Blokhin - who guided Ukraine to the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup - was confident his club could rise above expectations.
"We hear the cynics saying we are not ready for this tournament and there is only one response," Blokhin said, "Win, win, win."
Sweden is the favorite against Ukraine, but even a win would not guarantee its place in the knockout round. France and England, who play in their opener, are expected to escape from group play.
But Sweden, led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, is capable of defeating both. The first task is Ukraine, and after a 2-1 win over Serbia in its final friendly before Euros, the Swedes should be confident.
But coach Erik Hamren realized nothing is a sure thing, especially not against Ukraine on its own turf.
"It will be an exciting challenge," Hamren said. "It is a tough and uncertain group."