France needs to silence crowd, stop Shevchenko

Associated Press Modified: June 14, 2012 at 3:04 am •  Published: June 14, 2012
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DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — A partisan home crowd isn't the only thing France has to keep quiet when it plays Ukraine at the European Championship on Friday.

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, who has scored 48 goals for Ukraine. "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, much the same way as the 1,000 French fans expected to turn up will hardly be noticed. They were barely audible against England.

"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. "But we were already prepared for that."

France had better be ready, because a loss will leave the team perilously close to a third straight first-round elimination at a major competition following early exits at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2008. 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, who scored 127 goals in 226 Serie A matches for AC Milan from 1999-2006 before his career started to fade.

"I was not surprised at all by his performance (against Sweden)," Blokhin said through a translator. "I couldn't understand why he was written off before the tournament."

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