Ukraine wants to take next step against France
Donetsk, Ukraine (Sports Network) - Andriy Shevchenko cemented his status as a legend for Ukraine years ago, and the 35-year-old striker reached an even more elite status in the team's Euro 2012 opener.
Shevchenko scored a pair of goals to lead Ukraine to a win over Sweden, taking his career scoring total to 48 goals in 109 international matches. Now, he can raise his status one more notch, if he takes his country to knockout play.
In its first-ever Euro finals, as a co-host, Ukraine surprised Group D when it defeated Sweden, 2-1. Shevchenko scored both goals to lead the comeback win.
Ukraine will try to ride the emotion of its huge victory, and its home crowd - "Thanks to all the supporters," Shevchenko said - into its game against France at Donbass Arena on Friday, when a win would seal a quarterfinal berth.
"I have so many emotions right now," Shevchenko said. "This is fantastic. It's the European Championship, playing at home, the opening game, and we win 2-1."
Shevchenko realized nothing has been accomplished yet, as France - which tied England 1-1 in its first match - will provide another challenge. As fast as it lifted the nation to beat Sweden, the excitement could weaken with a loss.
For Shevchenko, that makes the approach simple: Play each match like it is the last. For the veteran, that is almost true. He will retire after the event.
"Each game we approach like a final. (Monday) it was the opening game at home, we won and showed outstanding football qualities. We will be preparing for the next game the same way," Shevchenko said.
Even with the attention on Shevchenko, it was a team performance that fueled a win over Sweden and coach Oleh Blokhin was aware there were "good moments and bad moments." And all that matters now is France.
"We still have two games left; (Monday's) result puts us in a good position," Blokhin said.
France will enter its second game as the clear favorite, even with a nation in its opponents corner. The favorite to win the group and erase its poor outings in Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, the French still have something to prove.
Samir Nasri scored in Monday's 1-1 draw with England, but coach Laurent Blanc admitted "we have mixed feelings."
Blanc felt France could have won the game, but also admitted "the draw as fair for both teams." He cannot approach the second match content with a draw, even though it would keep France in position to advance.
"I hope we'll be ready from the first minute in the next game," Blanc said.