France plans to stop Shevchenko

France plans to stop Shevchenko

DONETSK, Ukrain - The Associated Press
France plans to stop Shevchenko

France will be focusing on stopping Ukraine’s legendary player Andriy Shevchenko, who started Euro 2012 on a high note, scoring two goals against Sweden. AFP photo

A partisan home crowd isn’t the only thing France has to keep quiet when it plays Ukraine at the European Championship tonight.

A resurgent Andriy Shevchenko has shrugged off a combination of back pains and criticism to steal the spotlight at the tournament, scoring two superb headers to give Ukraine a 2-1 win over Sweden in their opening Group D match.

The 35-year-old Shevchenko’s time on the highest stage is almost up because he will retire from international duty at the end of Euro 2012. Yet a win for the co-hosts will guarantee the team a spot in the quarterfinals and extend the striker’s international career by at least one more match.

“We really have a good chance to make it out of this group,” said Shevchenko. “That’s why we cannot fall victim to the euphoria.”

Try telling that to the fervent fans who will turn the Donbass Arena in Donetsk into a blue-and-yellow wall of noise. The fact that Shevchenko plays for Donetsk’s archrival, Dynamo Kiev, will melt into insignificance.

“It’s going to be hard against Ukraine. They will be very motivated and have the crowd on their side,” France right back Mathieu Debuchy said.

The French drew 1-1 with England in their first match.

Ukraine was the team tipped to struggle in Group D.

Reports before the tournament started were of a team in disarray, and coach Oleg Blokhin was heavily criticized for standing by the aging Shevchenko.

“I was not surprised at all by his performance,” Blokhin said. “I couldn’t understand why he was written off before the cup.”

The early win has not fooled Ukraine into dismissing France, who is unbeaten in 22 matches.