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Ukraine Euro 2012 Roster: Analyzing Team's Starting 11 and More

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Ukraine Euro 2012 Roster: Analyzing Team's Starting 11 and More
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Never underestimate a host nation's chances to succeed in a major tournament.

As has so often been the case in the World Cup, with then-minnows South Korea's run to the 2002 semifinals perhaps the best example, hosts have a habit of playing above their normal level. There is something about hearing the roar of a partisan home crowd that brings out the best in a side.

This summer will mark the first time Ukraine have ever participated in a European Championship, following the nation's affiliation with UEFA and FIFA in 1992 following the break up of the Soviet Union.

It is a nation with a strong footballing history, however, as its players littered the powerful Soviet sides of the 1970s and '80s. Current manager Oleg Blokhin a perfect example of that rich pedigree.

Blokhin scored 42 goals in a career that spanned 16 years (1972-88) and 112 caps. His first stint at the helm of Ukraine came from 2003-07, during which he helped lead the country on a surprise run to the 2006 World Cup quarterfinals.

He had stepped down in 2007 following Ukraine's third-successive failure to reach the Euros, telling the country's football association that "he had nothing more to give to the national team."

Following short-lived coaching stints by Myron Markevych (forced out after being implicated in a betting scandal) and Yuri Kalitvintsev, however, the Ukrainian FA arrived at the conclusion that Blokhin did, in fact, have more to offer the national side.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Tymoshchuk.

They brought him back on board ahead of this summer's championships, where a good showing in front of a rapturous home audience will be of the utmost importance.

Worries about racism have soured the buoyant mood ahead of the Euros, but Ukraine will want to put its best foot forward as it represents Eastern Europe's first staging of a major sporting event since the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.

Much of that will come down to Ukraine's play, which has been indifferent in recent appearances. They have struggled to just five wins in their last 18 matches, a span that has included losses to Brazil, Italy, France, Sweden, Uruguay and the Czech Republic, according to Soccernet.

A win over Estonia last October brightened the picture somewhat, but considering that Ukraine also struggled to a 2-2 tie at home against Canada in 2010, guarded optimism might be the best approach toward the upcoming tournament.

A 3-2 win in a friendly against Israel in February will have reignited confidence ahead of the June 11 opener with Sweden, but worries concerning the shaky defense still remain.

Blokhin, who has said that a winner's medal is the goal, addressed the criticism surrounding his squad with a defiant tone.

"We hear the cynics saying we are not ready for this tournament, and there is only one response," Blokhin said. "Win, win, win."

To do that he will rely upon the greatest player in Ukrainian history, Andrei Shevchenko. The forward, now 35, has lost a step or two of that blinding pace that once saw him considered as one of Europe's finest forwards, but his 46 goals at the international level cannot be scoffed at.

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Shevchenko has seen his role in the national team framework diminish in recent years, but expect him to play a key role in June. Should Blokhin employ his oft-used 4-5-1 formation, Shevchenko could lead the line, although Andrei Voronin and Artem Milevskyi offer younger, and stronger, options to start. 

If Blokhin goes with a 4-4-2, expect Shevchenko to have a chance to partner with either of those two aforementioned strikers.

Wide play is essential to Ukrainian success, and wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleg Husiev will be tasked with providing the creative output for a side that has played some rather dreary matches in recent months.

Anatoli Tymoshchuk, fresh off a start in the Champions League final with Bayern Munich, will anchor the midfield. Like his manager, the Bayern sentinel is confident of a strong performance in front of partisan crowds.

"Our ambition should be the maximum because when you have a tournament in your home country, it is a once in a lifetime moment. I had something similar with Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final this season and now we have to take our chances at Euro 2012."

But Tymoshchuk, who made his first appearance for the senior team in 2000, remains a realist. Speaking to Planete Foot, he realized that Ukraine will have their work cut out for them at the upcoming tournament.

"We cannot declare ourselves favorites for this competition," Tymoshchuk said. "There are a number of very formidable teams, but I think we have the means to achieve some very good results. We're in a difficult group with France, Sweden and England, but we won't concede anything."

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Ukraine enjoy rapturous support from their home fans.

The defense has been somewhat of a revolving door in recent friendlies, with the likes of Vasyl Kobin, Oleksandr Kucher, Mykola Ischenko, Vyacheslav Shevchuk, Taras Mykhalyk, Yevhen Selin and Yevhen Khacheridi all vying for spots in the first-team lineup.

Oleksandr Shovkovskiy, the 37-year-old Dynamo Kiev goalkeeping institution, has a chance to add to his 92 caps for the national side this summer, although Andriy Pyatov, the Shakhtar Donetsk No. 1, could also be called upon in goal.

The national team is dominated by players who ply their professional trade with Ukraine's top club sides—and bitter rivals—Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk.

As has often been talked about with the Spanish national team, whose success is attributed to a heavy dependence upon FC Barcelona's Catalan stalwarts (Catalunya is noted as harboring separatist ambitions), there is a worry that the animosity between Kiev and Donetsk's players could undermine the team dynamic.

But playing in front of the home crowds should alleviate some of that tension. It is hard not to feel patriotic, after all, when you hear tens of thousands of your fellow countrymen pulling for you every step of the way.

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