Given how France seemed to defeat Ukraine with relative ease on Friday night, it looks time for Oleh Blokhin's men to come back down to earth.
The coach told the media after the co-hosts' opening 2-1 win against Sweden that some of his players needed to keep their feet on the ground. The praise for his troops had been fulsome after that comeback victory and Blokhin worried it might get to them. His fears may have been confirmed in the 2-0 loss that leaves Ukraine third in Group D, and Blokhin returned to the theme.
"I warned the lads that the match against Sweden meant little," he said. "Some of the players were thinking they were already in the quarter-finals."
From the stands, it certainly appeared that he had a point, with concentration levels noticeably lower compared to Ukraine's first game. In particular, the younger players have perhaps yet to get used to the rhythm of a UEFA European Championship, with games coming thick and fast and maximum effort required every time.
The match against France also showed that this Ukraine side has trouble setting out for a goalless draw. The overly cautious play of the full-backs and central midfielders left the wingers and forwards to run their kilometres in vain. In fact, Andriy Shevchenko was on occasion forced to drop deep to take possession. The coaching staff now need to work on making the side more attack-minded without leaving them too vulnerable at the back – particularly with England, their final Group D opponents on Tuesday, expected to bring back Wayne Rooney following his suspension.
Another weakness revealed yesterday was the inability of the team to bounce back from disappointment, a point that did not escape Blokhin. "I didn't like how my team stopped playing after the second goal," he said. The substitutes were unable to change the flow of the game and I think Blokhin may shuffle his pack ahead of the England match, with mental strength likely to be as important as technical quality.
Only victory will now suffice against Roy Hodgson's charges, and that will be no easy task, especially given that Ukraine have still never won in Donetsk. For that curse to be lifted, players and supporters alike will have to be ready for a last-ditch battle.
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