"Coffee and tea," joked Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin when asked what Andriy Shevchenko brings to his side off the pitch. With the co-hosts knowing victory against France will book them a spot in the quarter-finals, he could afford a moment of levity.
In truth, however, UEFA EURO 2012 is anything but a laughing matter for the former Ballon d'Or winner, who admitted that "the pressure felt very big after our first game", a 2-1 win against Sweden that shot Ukraine to the top of Group D. With France – and then England – still to come, Blokhin will not be making the mistake of thinking his team are almost through.
"I think England and France are leaders of world football," he said. "
If Laurent Blanc says France are outsiders, he's not telling the whole truth because they have great players. I said after our game against Sweden that we hadn't achieved anything. My main task is to give strength to the players so that they can get through the group stage, and I do everything possible to give them energy."
They will need every ounce of it if the sweltering conditions persist in Donetsk, and Blokhin admitted that the heat could affect his team selection. "I think the weather will play a role," he said. "I think it will be very hard to play attacking football and a pressing game for 90 minutes. We'll have to handle it, but I know that some of my players cope better in these conditions than others."
Free from major injury concerns, the 59-year-old is said to be considering fielding FC Shakhtar Donetsk's Yaroslav Rakitskiy in central defence due to his pace and local expertise, and potentially bolstering his midfield. Given that Ukraine have won none of their five previous games in Donetsk, though, he will above all be hoping for another fine performance from Shevchenko – "the best possible example for young players" according to his coach and, of course, scorer of both goals against Sweden.
The most recent of those five matches came against France last June and, like Blokhin, Blanc refused to read too much into what ended as a 4-1 win for the visitors. The France coach is more concerned with avoiding a repeat of the slow start his charges made in their opening 1-1 draw with England, their eighth consecutive outing at a major tournament without a victory.
"The first 25 minutes could have been fatal," said Blanc, whose team are nonetheless unbeaten in 22 games. "If we'd played like that against a really good side, it would've been over. The players need to play with full confidence in their ability. They need to play near the opponents' goal, and the whole team has to work to make that happen."
Yann M'Vila is widely expected to be given a midfield berth in place of either Alou Diarra or Florent Malouda, but Blanc wants whoever starts to surpass themselves. "
Great players always perform in big tournaments because great players take responsibility. If we have any great players in this team, they need to show it tomorrow."
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