If Switzerland goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbühler had seen Ukraine's opening match of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in May last night's penalty shoot-out might have taken a different course. In it Artem Milevskiy opened the scoring for Ukraine against the Netherlands with a cheeky chipped penalty that surprised Dutch keeper Kenneth Vermeer and onlookers alike.
Having been fouled in the area, the No10 picked himself up and gently stroked the ball down the middle as Vermeer dived to his left. Last night, after a goalless draw in Cologne, Milevskiy repeated the trick, casually chipping the ball goalwards as Zuberbühler went to his right. Zuberbühler looked on despairingly as the ball crossed the line to help send Ukraine through to the quarter-finals of their first FIFA World Cup. On both occasions, if the goalkeeper had not moved he would have had the easiest of saves to make and Milevskiy would have had plenty of explaining to do.
Taking a penalty in a shoot-out is something some players will spend their careers trying to avoid. Not Milevskiy, who at 21 shows a confidence and calm assurance beyond that of some of his more senior colleagues. Despite having just seen Andriy Shevchenko's opening spot-kick saved by Zuberbühler, the FC Dynamo Kyiv striker had no hesitation in repeating a well worked trick. When asked by uefa.com in Agueda after that Under-21 victory against the Netherlands whether his chipped penalty was something he had tried previously, a beaming Milevskiy said: "I did it once a long time ago, when I was playing in the reserves ... and we were leading 3-0." It worked then and it has been working since, though now that the world has seen it, perhaps he will be loathe to try it again.
Milevskiy's penalty was a rare moment of flair in a drab match. Coach Oleh Blokhin, though, was focused on the result. "Some people didn't believe in our team, they considered us debutants incapable of playing football," he said. "We play for results. We have fought so hard and come so far that it's like a dream come true for us. The Italians are a tough team, particularly strong at the back. It will be difficult to create chances against them."
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