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Proud Blokhin bent on blocking England's path

Published: Monday 18 June 2012, 21.45CET
"Nobody expects us to fly to the moon," said Oleh Blokhin, but the Ukraine coach retains a fierce desire to reach the last eight by beating an England side buoyed by Wayne Rooney's return.
by Chris Burke
from Donbass Arena
Proud Blokhin bent on blocking England's path
Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin thinks England will be nervous ©Getty Images

Tournament statistics

EnglandUkraine

Goals scored5
 
2
Total attempts37
 
38
Attempts on target19
 
12
Attempts off target18
 
26
Attempts blocked8
 
5
Attempts against woodwork0
 
0
Corners16
 
18
Offsides6
 
4
Yellow cards5
 
5
Red Cards0
 
0
Fouls committed45
 
31
Fouls suffered43
 
48

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Published: Monday 18 June 2012, 21.45CET

Proud Blokhin bent on blocking England's path

"Nobody expects us to fly to the moon," said Oleh Blokhin, but the Ukraine coach retains a fierce desire to reach the last eight by beating an England side buoyed by Wayne Rooney's return.

Behind the wry grin and gentle bon mots, there burns a searing pride. Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin may be trying to douse expectations ahead of the co-hosts' Group D decider against England, but his innate competitive zeal will accept no less than the victory that would carry his side into the last eight.

England are among the favourites, so the pressure's on them
Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin
Dreaming is what football is about and we're happy that people now think we can go a bit further
England manager Roy Hodgson

Blokhin did not win the Ballon d'Or by lowering the bar for himself, and yet that, in the build-up to Tuesday's encounter, has seemed to be his strategy. "Nobody expects us to fly to the moon – let's not indulge in fantasy," he stated, insisting that his team will start as clear underdogs against an England side who need only draw to be sure of advancing – and can potentially progress with Ukraine even if they lose.

"England are among the favourites, so the pressure's on them," he said. "Our approach to this game is more relaxed. If the result is not good for us but we fight on the pitch until the last minute, that's not bad for us. We're building a new team, a young team. I think England will be very nervous."

They will also have Wayne Rooney back from suspension and Blokhin could only laugh when asked how England manager Roy Hodgson should integrate the Manchester United FC forward, with Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck having both scored in Friday's 3-2 win against Sweden. "Every coach would be glad to have such a headache," he said.

Indeed, Blokhin's headache is of an entirely different order. The fact that Ukraine have still to win in Donetsk after six previous attempts does not concern him – "it will surely happen eventually" – but the state of Andriy Shevchenko's knee clearly does. "If he can't play tomorrow, it will be a big loss," said the 59-year-old, who rated his captain's chances as "50-50", and let his mask of insouciance slip when pressed on the matter. Urging respect for his other players, there, laid raw, was the defiant spirit of a man who would love to trip England up at the Donbass Arena.

Determined to ensure that does not come to pass, meanwhile, Hodgson was delighted to hear that belief levels have increased back home since the Sweden win. "You play football at international level to try to get people carried away," he explained. "Dreaming is what football is about and we're happy that people now think we can go a bit further."

With Theo Walcott declared "fit for the game" following a hamstring scare, England will be at full strength as they aim to reach the quarter-finals for only the third time since finishing third in 1968. Hodgson expects Rooney to be at his best too, despite the striker's enforced time out. "If anything, he's every bit as sharp as when he finished his last game for Manchester United."

As for who will make way for the 26-year-old between Carroll and Welbeck, the England manager used the same metaphor as his counterpart. "It's a classic manager's headache, with players in form and competing for a place." Whether the headaches are real for now or not, one of these men is almost certain to be feeling the pain come tomorrow night.

Last updated: 24/06/12 13.42CET

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