The decision to make Ukraine's first training session back on home soil a public one ensured it was a special occasion. Around 5,000 people greeted the squad at the Lobanovskiy Stadium, a venue well known to the players as it was used by both FC Dynamo Kyiv and the national team during the reconstruction of the Olympic Stadium. Even now, it is used home of FC Arsenal Kyiv and, often, Ukraine Under-21 fixtures.
"All 23 players are training and ready to play," said coach Oleh Blokhin. Training was spectacular enough in itself, with players warming up to the sound of music all the while remaining relaxed in the company of local TV presenters. The crowd, meanwhile, were all attired in national team jerseys distributed for free upon entrance. Every dribble, shot and tackle was cheered to the rafters.
Fifteen minutes in and with no goals scored, Blokhin decided to mix it up; one team stayed defending one normal goal, while the other was forced to protect two smaller ones. Training was concluded with long-range shooting, jumps and forward rolls. Last of all was a backwards run with hands held together; not everything went smoothly, giving plenty of reason to smile.
The question remains, though, will home support and subsequent expectations be beneficial or detrimental to the team? "There are no hosts and visitors on the pitch," said Blokhin. "If the match was decided on paper then the home team would always win. Us and Poland would be given gold medals in advance without holding any matches. Perhaps I would not object to this scenario that much, but that is not going to happen.
"We need to go and fight on the pitch and while domestic support undoubtedly boosts the players, sometimes local media come up with the excessive expectations. Even the top teams are not guaranteed the place in the last eight and we are not the exception."
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