Ukraine out to show they are more than just Shevchenko
For Ukraine's coach, it's not all about Andriy Shevchenko when the co-host takes on France in the European Championship on Friday.
The 35-year-old star striker, written off by many before Euro 2012, scored twice to give Ukraine an unexpected 2-1 win over Sweden in Group D on Monday.
France coach Laurent Blanc praised Shevchenko extensively on Thursday, but his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleg Blokhin, tried to downplay the dominant role of his striker.
"He is a normal person, he is just one of the 23 players on the team," Blokhin said through an interpreter. "He is a good example of professionalism and playing the way he does at his age is an example for the youth."
Immediately after Shevchenko scored the winner against Sweden, he ran to the sidelines to embrace Blokhin. And he gave his coach another intense hug when the match was over.
Blokhin acknowledged the two have developed a special relationship.
"When I started as a coach, everybody expected scandals with Shevchenko," Blokhin said. "But we are two good players who have found a good understanding. We have a very good relationship."
Blokhin wasn't sure whether to field Shevchenko from the start again. The coach said he did not yet know his lineup. He suggested that some players were doubtful, but all 23 members of the squad took part in the training session as normal.
"It's not a broken leg or something, but we have some doubts about a couple of players," Blokhin said without naming them. "So we will wait until the warm-up tomorrow to decide who will play."
Blanc is convinced that his defenders will have to face Shevchenko, a player he highly rates.
From his own experience as a defender, Blanc knows how difficult Shevchenko is to shadow, even if the 2004 European Footballer of the Year's prime is well behind him.
"I had the pleasure of playing against him," Blanc said. "Even though sometimes I wasn't very happy at the end of games as he's very difficult to mark. He doesn't have the legs of a 20-year-old anymore, but he makes such clever runs that he still manages to be efficient."
Blanc warned his players not to stay too far away from him.
"Of course, we will have to keep a close eye on him," Blanc said. "He has the art of making you forget about him and then all of a sudden he pops up where you never expected him. The great players always turn up for the big games, even at his age."
Where France is wary of Shevchenko, Ukraine has its focus on Samir Nasri, who scored his team's lone goal in the 1-1 draw with England.
The Ukrainian team analyzed video footage of the France-England match on Thursday, with special attention for Nasri.
"I don't know if Nasri plays in the middle or on the right wing, he changes sometimes," Blokhin said. "He's a great player, but I don't have 11 defenders to stop him."
For defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy, who didn't play against Sweden but might be one of Blokhin's changes to the team, it's important to look beyond Nasri and his teammates Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery up front.
"They have a good attacking line. But they have not just good individual players, it's the whole team," Rakitskiy said. Midfielder Serhiy Nazarenko called the French "a good team, quick and with a lot of technical skills."
"But we are not afraid of the team nor of individual players," he added. "If we were afraid, we'd better go to the beach."