Andriy Shevchenko is poised to become the first Ukraine player to reach 100 caps when the UEFA EURO 2012 co-hosts meet Canada in a friendly on Friday – and even he, a man who only devotes a cursory glance at statistics, concedes "it is quite a milestone".
It is a decade and a half since the 18-year-old Shevchenko pulled on the national jersey for the first time. A heavy EURO '96 qualifying defeat by Croatia in Zagreb did not necessarily augur well, however. "There's nothing pleasant about losing 4-0," the FC Dynamo Kyiv striker said. "
I tend to remember only the best moments and thankfully there have been a lot over the 16 years.
"Obviously our World Cup campaign in 2006 is right up there, especially as Ukraine had lost in the play-offs in three previous qualifying campaigns," added Shevchenko, recalling how the side avoided the same fate by topping their group. "
I remember our game in Turkey when even the home fans gave us a standing ovation – these things are rare."
Shevchenko scored two of his 45 international goals in that 3-0 Istanbul victory in November 2004, and arrived at the finals as holder of the Ballon d'Or. A lack of fitness limited his effectiveness in Germany, although Ukraine reached the quarter-finals before a 3-0 loss to Italy. "I will remember the atmosphere at that great football tournament for the rest of my life," he said.
"Unfortunately we failed to get to the last World Cup but now we're preparing for EURO 2012 with extra desire," continued former AC Milan favourite Shevchenko. "Hopefully I'll be fit [for the finals] and will give all my energy and experience to help our team succeed at home. For now I miss qualifying games a bit, although we are treating the friendlies seriously and are trying to play our best."
There will be even more incentive on Friday when 'Sheva' makes his landmark appearance in his adopted home town of Kyiv. "
It is quite a milestone, even for those, like me, who are not obsessed with statistics," the 34-year-old said. The player who fondly remembers his boyhood gift from Canadian visitors of a poster of ice-hockey star Wayne Gretzky – "I was in seventh heaven – is now held in similar regard by children across Ukraine.
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