Andriy Shevchenko: ‘Our mentality, Ukraine’s strong character: we’re always going to fight’

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Andriy Shevchenko is reasoning backmost to a summertime of joy, committedness and kinship that feels a life away. It was 12 years agone that Ukraine co-hosted nan European Championship and a continent could, successful galore cases for nan first time, observe nan nation’s riches.

“That was a happy clip for Ukraine,” he says. “A state together, smiling group enjoying their emotion of football. That tourney agreed group a batch and we felt proud. We tried to show nan champion of ourselves truthful that visitors could travel and bask a beautiful competition. The representation of that clip is for illustration a agleam light.”

In 2012, Shevchenko lit nan occurrence pinch two goals against Sweden at Kyiv’s Olympic stadium. Now, successful a gathering room 400 metres distant from nan segment of those heroics, he is tasked pinch starring Ukrainian shot backmost done darkness.

Five months ago, he was elected president of its shot relation and it is nary mini accomplishment that, connected 17 June, he will beryllium capable to watch nan nationalist squad statesman their Euro 2024 run against Romania successful Munich. Ukraine person had to improvise heavy done nan constraints of wartime but they will get successful Germany pinch a ngo and a message.

“This is simply a very important constituent successful clip for us,” he says. “It’s captious our team, our federation, participates. We tin talk astir Ukraine and show nan state is fighting while besides trying to live. It’s specified a difficult infinitesimal and we person a work successful athletics to do nan maximum we can.”

The aforesaid consciousness of work pushed Shevchenko to tally for his caller position. His sanction and beingness are capable to clasp a room acold beyond his homeland and he is canny capable to cognize that. He is Ukraine’s sound successful nan corridors of Uefa, Fifa and beyond. These are places wherever Russia, moreover successful exile from nan world stage, continues to exert power and Shevchenko’s ambassadorial clout whitethorn beryllium important successful ensuring football’s authorities clasp their existing line.

“I want to thief my country, I want to beryllium here, and that is why I put myself forward,” he says. “That is my plan: supporting and loving Ukraine for truthful galore reasons. We person galore friends and partners who backmost us, and we person to support nan unit connected each day.”

For each his evident cachet, he emphasises connected respective occasions that his domiciled is much administrative than political. There is simply a immense occupation to do domestically: Ukraine’s footballing earthy materials are successful small uncertainty and nor is its heritage, but cultivating nan erstwhile while building connected nan second feels an uphill struggle erstwhile nan state is nether changeless attack.

Ukraine’s Illia Zabarnyi and Volodymyr Brazhko observe aft qualifying for Euro 2024.
Ukraine’s Illia Zabarnyi and Volodymyr Brazhko observe aft qualifying for Euro 2024. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

“The main target erstwhile I started was qualifying for Germany and making judge nan logistics were successful place,” he says, moving done nan scenery he inherited. “Then location are nan different points you person to face: organising convention games, improving nan financial situation, nan truth a batch of talented young players person near nan state because of nan penetration and we request to link pinch them again. That’s 1 of nan biggest challenges successful our early because we want those talents to play for our nationalist team.”

They will person large boots to fill. Ukraine hit Iceland successful March to guarantee their spot successful Group E and fixed they could not play a azygous qualifier connected location ungraded nan feat was exceptional. But location is quiet dream that, connected nan much moreover playing section of a awesome tournament, a sparkling broadside whose halfway play successful England and Spain tin execute thing special.

Shevchenko will publically agelong nary further than targeting a last-16 spot but he has religion successful nan team’s manager, Serhiy Rebrov, pinch whom he formed a telepathic onslaught business for their state and an outstanding Dynamo Kyiv side. The return of nan aged one-two is an evident romanticist statement successful Ukraine’s difficult story.

“We spot shot successful nan aforesaid way,” he says. “Our mindsets are very similar. We had talent, but that goes pinch education, difficult work, attraction and discipline. What I ever for illustration astir Serhiy is his professionalism. His dedication to nan occupation is outstanding.”

They scored 12 goals betwixt them successful nan 1998-99 Champions League, seeing disconnected Real Madrid successful nan quarter-finals. A twelvemonth antecedently nan brace ran riot successful a 4-0 triumph astatine nan Nou Camp. In those days they held Europe successful nan palms of their hands. “When we met we were instantly for illustration that,” he clicks his fingers. “He already knew wherever I was and I knew what his adjacent measurement would be. Playing pinch him was truthful easy, we had that knowing and kept moving connected it.

“And of people I cognize what he’s reasoning now astir nan squad and nan measurement it has to play. He took them successful specified a difficult situation, particularly pinch England and Italy successful nan qualifiers, but we fought to nan extremity and it worked. Not just done fighting, either, but by playing bully football.”

Shevchenko had his ain five-year spell successful charge, taking Ukraine to nan Euro 2020 quarter-finals earlier they were soundly beaten by England successful Rome. “Modern football, charismatic football, thing group retrieve america for,” was ever his aim.

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In Ukraine, he sees a state that has produced 3 Ballon d’Or winners – Oleh Blokhin, Ihor Belanov and himself – and whose 2 biggest clubs, Dynamo and Shakhtar Donetsk, person won awesome European honours.

“We haven’t won a Champions League but our teams person ever been reliable to play against,” he says. “Our mentality, our beardown character: we’re ever going to conflict and compete. This has been our personality for a agelong clip and now it’s coming retired moreover more.”

Given nan present-day context, Shevchenko believes Ukraine is “in a very bully style football-wise”. The under-19 and under-17 sides reached their European finals tournaments and nan state will title its first men’s Olympic title adjacent month. The section convention has, contempt changeless stoppages owed to aerial ambush warnings, completed a 2nd play since Russia’s full-scale penetration and crowds person begun to return nether strictly monitored conditions.

Almost 3,500 fans were capable to watch nan Ukrainian cup last betwixt Shakhtar Donetsk and Vorskla Poltava, held successful Rivne, 4 weeks ago. That was intolerable to ideate successful February 2022. “We’re facing unthinkable challenges moreover to decorativeness games, but our shot nine feels very agreed now,” he says. “There’s a precocious determination to understand and lick our problems.”

Soldiers and schools thief denote Ukraine's Euro 2024 squad – video

Thinking backmost to those fewer hot, heady weeks successful 2012 it is intolerable not to consciousness despair astir what happened next. Russia annexed Crimea 18 months aft Ukraine’s location tourney and soon afterwards a swathe of nan Donbas region, including Donetsk, was seized by separatists. The wider world grounded to expect nan ramifications; Russia staged nan 2018 World Cup pinch comparatively ray interrogation of its actions successful Ukraine.

“For us, everything started successful 2014,” Shevchenko says. “Since then, there’s been nary chance to extremity it. The guidance of nan full world was very slow, but they opened their eyes 2 years agone and are still supporting us. We’re facing a very difficult moment. You perceive nan sirens each day, things are difficult connected nan beforehand line, and evidently group are tired. But our group are beardown and will transportation on.”

If shot was a costly distraction six years ago, he believes nan show of Ukraine’s players stepping retired successful Germany will beryllium “a connection that reminds nan world we’re still fighting successful each direction”.

Shevchenko sees a chance for his athletics to wield its powerfulness for good, conscionable arsenic it did erstwhile Europe’s fans converged connected his country. “It’s important really you usage this power,” he says. “It’s astir whether you usage it successful nan correct way, to link pinch group and nonstop bid messages, aliases if you usage shot to screen warfare crimes aliases things for illustration that.

“Football is simply a very powerful tool: we person to usage it successful nan correct way.”

Source theguardian