Tickets for the UEFA EURO 2012 final tournament have gone on sale and Andriy Pyatov, the reigning Ukrainian Premier League player of the year, is looking forward to showcasing his homeland.
"I think hosting the competition will have far-reaching consequences as Ukraine is currently not very well-known internationally," the FC Shakhtar Donetsk goalkeeper told UEFA.com. "UEFA criteria demand a lot of changes to infrastructure, which is good. We have started to build hotels and roads, and that will help Ukraine take a well-deserved place alongside the world's other major countries."
Pyatov has already helped prove that in the sphere of football at least, Ukraine stands shoulder to shoulder with Europe's heavyweights. A member of Shakhtar's 2009 UEFA Cup-winning side, the 26-year-old has been ever-present this season as Mircea Lucescu's men explore the uncharted territory of the UEFA Champions League knockout stages – they are 3-2 up after the away leg of their last-16 tie against AS Roma.
They have been cheered on by a tangerine army of Pitmen supporters, complete with helmets, and Pyatov says the local industry is a huge source of pride for a city that has been his home since arriving from FC Vorskla Poltava in 2007. "Every region of Ukraine has its own distinctive identity," he explained. "Donetsk is an industrial town – coal mining. Maybe someone from outside will be brave enough to go down the mine to see the hard labour. I would like to do it myself."
Donetsk's industrial heart beats throughout a city dotted with strangely appealing terykony (slag heaps); the statue of a miner offering a piece of coal to the heavens in Coal Miners' Square is revealing. In 18 months' time, Pyatov hopes to help provide a new source of civic pride as UEFA EURO 2012 gets under way. He is not getting carried away, though.
"It would be great if we could raise the image of the country [on the pitch]," he said, before turning attention to a form book that reads one win in eight games, excluding penalty shoot-outs. "
Before people say Ukraine should win the championship, I think we need to start showing the standard of play that's expected of us. We need to get results.
Our primary goal is to get out of the group; after that we shall see.
"Some of our names speak for themselves – they have already achieved so much and can lead from the front," he added, singling out 100-cap campaigners Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Andriy Shevchenko. Whether their "leadership qualities, experience and intuition" will be enough to power Ukraine to the latter stages of the tournament remains to be seen, yet for Pyatov, nothing can stand in the way of the success of the finals themselves.
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