Oleh Shelayev admitted that if Ukraine fail to beat Italy in Kiev they "can forget about Austria and Switzerland", but in Cristiano Lucarelli they will have to contend with a man possessing insider knowledge.
A disappointing 1-1 draw against Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday means that the stakes are even higher ahead of the Group B fixture at the NSC Olympiyskiy Stadium. The result left Oleh Blokhin's team five points behind Scotland, who occupy the second UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying spot, and four adrift of Italy but with a match in hand on both the coach remains optimistic. "We lost very important points in Georgia and I didn't see the qualities that could help us beat Italy," he said. "However, I am optimistic and sure that we can take advantage of our last chance."
It will be far from easy. Ukraine lost 3-0 to the Azzurri in the quarter-finals of last year's FIFA World Cup and have only ever scored one goal against them, the consolation in a 3-1 defeat in EURO '96™ qualifying 12 years ago. A precocious Andriy Shevchenko made his international debut during that campaign and 74 games later the Ukraine captain knows the difference between winning and losing. "Everyone will have to give 150 or even 200 per cent," said the Chelsea FC forward. "Only such an outlook can bring a positive result. However, we know that Italy are World Cup holders, and one of the strongest teams on our planet – perhaps even the strongest."
Having spent seven seasons at AC Milan, Shevchenko will be able to impart invaluable knowledge about Italy to his Ukraine team-mates, though in FC Shakhtar Donetsk's Lucarelli the Azzurri have a spy of their own. "It will be a hard match," he said. "It is not only about prestige as a win is very important for them; three points would take them closer to the finals. Roberto Donadoni asked me about Shakhtar's seven Ukraine internationals for a reason. They are a strong side."
Both teams have made meticulous preparations but such is the home team's position in the group that there may come a time on Wednesday when they throw caution to the wind. "If we fail to win then we can forget about Austria and Switzerland," said Shelayev, Ukraine's goalscorer at the weekend. "We can't afford to go backwards. We have nothing to lose."
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