Belarus captain Yuri Zhevnov has set his sights on reaching the UEFA EURO 2012 finals after inspiring his team to "one of the greatest victories in the nation's history" in their Group D opener against France in Paris.
FC Zenit St. Petersburg goalkeeper Zhevnov pulled off a series of fine stops and commanded his penalty area with authority as Bernd Stange's resilient team prevented Les Bleus from breaking through in front of a packed Stade de France. Just when it looked like the visitors would be heading home with a point, their night got even better as substitute Sergei Kislyak struck a sensational 86th-minute winner to sink the two-time European champions.
Zhevnov was delighted to have claimed all three points but admitted the enormity of the achievement had not yet sunk in. "We're very happy, of course, but we haven't been able to celebrate much because we left all our energy on the pitch," the 29-year-old told UEFA.com. "This is definitely one of the biggest wins in our history, but it's going to take a bit of time before we realise what we've done. Maybe in a couple of hours when we're together at the hotel we'll be able to savour this result."
Belarus will quickly need to shift their focus to Tuesday's home qualifier against Romania, yet they could hardly have dreamed of a better start to their campaign. "Victories give you strength and confidence so we hope to build on this," Zhevnov enthused. "Everybody showed great discipline tonight. The defenders, midfielders and attackers all carried out their jobs, and they all linked up well. If we carry on playing like that then we have a great chance of doing well."
France began the night as strong favourites despite their FIFA World Cup disappointment but struggled to create chances in Laurent Blanc's opening competitive fixture, failing to test Zhevnov until first-half added time when Florent Malouda's drive was pushed to safety. The former FC BATE Borisov goalkeeper was busier after the break, saving well from Jérémy Menez, Yann M'Vila and Mathieu Valbuena, and looking on with relief as Guillaume Hoarau and Kevin Gameiro missed chances.
"I didn't have so much work to do," Zhevnov said modestly. "France had some shots from distance but I saw them all early and I was well placed so it wasn't a big problem. We were expecting France to have some trouble," continued the custodian who won his 38th cap. "This is a new beginning for the French team, and our coach kept telling us they might be vulnerable. He was right. They made some mistakes and we managed to exploit them."
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