After co-hosting a successful UEFA EURO 2012, Oleh Blokhin says Ukraine are ready to make big strides on the pitch as they visit Wembley aiming to give England a taste of their own medicine.
Ukraine start their FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign on Tuesday against Roy Hodgson's men, who kicked off their own bid with an impressive 5-0 win in Moldova. Memories of the unfortunate 1-0 loss to England in their final EURO group stage game still are fresh and Blokhin's team are ready to make amends.
That June defeat is hardly the only motivator for Ukraine, though. Blokhin believes his team have developed well and that a Wembley win can pave the road to success. "It just so happened that we met England in our previous competitive fixture," the coach said. "According to the statistics, we were far superior, technically and tactically, but still lost 1-0. We had total domination and should have won.
"That's just the way it goes," he added. "You can't do anything about that now, it's all in the past. Now we have World Cup qualifying.
We haven't played in any qualifiers since 2009 and they have their own, unique strategy. The start is all-important and we're talking about a visit to Wembley where any point you get is a bonus. However, we are a more attacking team now – we just can't play otherwise because these are the players we have. If I restrain them I would not be doing my duty as a coach. It's better to give the lads freedom."
Ukraine certainly have a new look about them. Andriy Shevchenko, Andriy Voronin, Olexandr Shovkovskiy have all ended their international careers while Artem Milevskiy and Olexandr Aliyev were omitted from Blokhin's squad. Coming to the fore are a younger generation, including Yevhen Konoplyanka, Yaroslav Rakitskiy and Denys Garmash and other representatives of Ukraine's Under-21 team who played at the 2011 finals in Denmark.
Blokhin is happy for them to make the step up and become the new spine of the team. "They have matured enough and are ready to play at the top level," he explained. "Nobody's going to make allowances for their age now. Some will have to become the team's new leaders."
Ukraine and England met in qualifying for the last World Cup, with Serhiy Nazarenko giving his side a 1-0 victory in the home tie. Now he is looking for something similar at Wembley. "We were the better team in Donetsk, but luck was not on our side and we failed to find the net. Hopefully luck will shine on us at Wembley. We obviously won't rush forward, but we'll attack as we have a lot of fast and technically gifted players."
Blokin's main concern ahead of the game has come in central defence following the loss of Taras Mikhalik and Olexandr Kucher. However, he feels the duo of Rakitskiy and Yevhen Khacheridi could be another glimpse of the future and the coach is in trademark bullish mood. "We have studied them well," he said. "It's hard to beat England, but who said it's going be easy for them against us?"
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