EURO 2012 Preview: Can Blokhin hold Ukraine together?
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Much of the build up to Euro 2012 surrounding co-hosts Ukraine has centered on dissension within the team.
From manager Oleh Blokhin feuding with captain Andriy Shevchenko to a battle within the team involving players from rival Ukrainian sides Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donestsk.
Blokhin has heard the criticism about how his team isn't prepared for this summer's competition. But he has a very simple solution.
"We hear the cynics saying we are not ready for this tournament and there is only one response. Win, win, win," said Blokhin, who guided Ukraine to the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup.
Winning does have a way of solving problems, but it would appear that in order for winning to take place, Blokhin needs to get things in order within his own side before getting ready to take on the rest of Group D, which includes England, France and Sweden.
Shevchenko does not resemble the dynamic offensive force he was 10 years ago, but he will be determined to go out on a positive note before hanging up his boots at the end of the tournament.
It will be important for coach and captain to get on the same page when the competition starts, while the feud between Shakhtar and Dynamo players must be put aside for a few weeks anyway.
A combative encounter between the teams in April only served to increase the animosity between them, and it is an issue that could threaten any hopes Ukraine has of reaching the next round if not properly handled.
On the field, Dynamo Kyiv striker Artem Milevskiy will be an option if Shevchenko falters, while the strength of the side will rest in midfield, with Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleg Husiev.
Blokhin's team has sustained injuries in defense and lacks experience in goal, putting more pressure on his midfield to be defensively responsible.
This will be the first time at the European Championships for Ukraine, and its first opportunity to host a major tournament.
Tymoshchuk knows how big it is to be hosting the event, and despite some of the problems in the team ahead of the competition, the Bayern Munich man believes expectations should be high.
"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. "I had something similar with Bayern Munich in the Champions League final this season and now we have to take our chances at Euro 2012."
Tymoshchuk's moment in the final with Bayern a few weeks ago didn't end happily. But maybe the midfielder and his teammates will make the most of their chance and find a way to write a better ending.
Ukraine will have a big edge playing at home as host nations often find a way out of the group stage. The first match against Sweden will be big because a win could convince the team to put aside any discord and focus on achieving something big. A loss could cause even more damage to any strained relationships and threaten to undo the team. France will be favored to win the group, but a match with England on the final day of group play could be the determining factor in whether or not a place in the last eight will be achieved.