Ukraine 2-1 Sweden: the Shevchenko show
The story of the tournament so far – Andriy Shevchenko rolled back the years to complete a surprise turnaround in Kiev.
Shevchenko was named from the start, despite speculation Oleg Blokhin would use him as a substitute. The rest of the side was as expected.
Erik Hamren made a surprise choice in the centre of midfield, playing Rasmus Elm alongside Kim Kallstrom. This meant Ola Toivonen started on the left, and Markus Rosenberg played upfront.
This was a peculiar game, where all the interesting tactical features were completely divorced from the goalscoring action. The goals were simply three smart finishes from clever strikers, and their nature wasn’t representative of the football played over the course of 90 minutes.
Shevchenko’s double was so special because he won the game on his own – it was Shevchenko’s superb runs and smart finishes that were the difference between the sides – he didn’t simply put the finishing touches to a dominant performance, he was the reason Ukraine were victorious.
Sweden set out in roughly the expected system, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic dropping off the front. They defended with two banks of four when Ukraine had long spells of possession, though the shape was more fluid with the ball.
Ukraine were also the expected formation – basically a 4-4-2 but with Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Andriy Voronin dropped significantly deeper from their lines, making something like a vague 4-1-3-1-1.
Tymoshchuk v Ibrahimovic
This was an interesting battle – Ibrahimovic naturally moves towards the right for Sweden, but Tymoshchuk generally plays towards the opposite side of the pitch, with Serhiy Nazarenko higher up, left-of-centre. Nevertheless, Tymoshchuk spent the first part of the game trying to track Ibrahimovic, who was basically playing as a number ten.
Ibrahmovic didn’t want this close attention, however, and he was clever with his movement. Sometimes he ventured towards the flanks, away from Tymoshchuk – who had to guard that central zone for fear that Toivonen, Seb Larsson or Kim Kallstrom would move into it – and got space in wider zones. More often he simply became a second striker, drifting high up the pitch where Tymoshchuk didn’t want to drop into.
Andriy Voronin was crucial to Ukraine’s system, involved in various key parts of their game – he dropped deeper than the Sweden midfield to link play, and also connected the midfield and Shevchenko.
Equally important was his work without the ball – he dropped back into midfield and moved onto Kallstrom, meaning Sweden found it difficult to play through the Lyon man.
Ukraine had long spells of possession, but their main threat came when they broke quickly through the wingers, Yevhen Konoplyanaka on the left and Andriy Yarmolenko on the right. They sprinted forward as soon as Ukraine won possession and were excellent at dribbling with the ball. Their end product was inconsistent, and they were less effective when Sweden got men behind the ball, but by simply carrying the ball down the flanks, they put Sweden’s backline under pressure. They really stretched the play, hugging the touchline and making themselves available for long crossfield balls.
Ukraine were particularly dangerous on the break because Sweden played without anything close to a natural holding player. They were expected to use Anders Svensson in the centre of midfield – himself more of a ball player than a tackler – but the decision to field Elm alongside Kallstrom meant Sweden looked very open in front of their defence. It was no surprise that Kallstrom picked up a booking within 15 minutes when forced to stop a break illegally, and Hamren waited too late to introduce Svensson (for Toivonen, with Elm moving wide), after the the three goals had been scored.
Another disappointing aspect of Sweden’s play was their set-piece delivery. Ukraine were disciplined and didn’t concede any fouls in shooting positions, but from long free-kicks Larsson’s crosses into the box were overhit.
But the main feature of this game wasn’t tactics, but simply Shevchenko’s performance. His movement throughout the game was very intelligent, despite his lack of pace and stamina. He moved towards the ball then tried to spin in behind the Swedish centre-backs, and his link-up play was generally good too.
His goals were similar – one from a right-wing cross, one from a left-wing corner – but both dependent upon sudden movements towards the near post, and fine headers.
Hamren made changes, but broadly kept the same shape. Christian Wilhelmsson was a good introduction – he offered direct dribbling ability from the flank, something Sweden lacked in the first half, while Johan Elmander came on upfront for Rosenberg and should have finished a late chance.
Blokhin simply replaced tired legs, with Shevchenko, Voronin and Konoplyanka withdrawn in the final ten minutes for Artem Milevskiy, Marko Devic and Ruslan Rotan – Ukraine kept the energy high and saw out the win.
Sweden’s shape looked unnatural – no holding player, probably not enough drive and directness from the flanks either. Their build-up play was also surprisingly direct at times, using the striker too quickly rather than building through the midfield. They could have won the game had they defended crosses better, but they still wouldn’t have played well.
Ukraine’s goals barely related to their best attacking moments, which came through the wide players on the flanks. Shevchenko was the key, and now Ukraine are in a great position at the top of Group D – other sides will look to come onto them, and Ukraine can play on the break.