Euro 2012: Counting Down the Men of the Match from Ukraine vs. Sweden
This is the eighth installment in a tournament-long series in which I pick three men from each team that could contend for Man of the Match. The three players from each team will be ranked third place, runner-up and Man of the Match, with a Man of the Match of the whole game picked at the end. Happy Euros!
With France and England sharing the spoils in the earlier Group D matchup, the group was up for grabs between Sweden and Ukraine.
Andriy Shevchenko, the 35-year-old talismanic forward for Ukraine, led the co-hosts in his last hurrah on the international stage, while self-proclaimed greatest-player-in-the-world Zlatan Ibrahimovic led Sweden out onto the pitch.
Ukraine are not expected to make it out of the group—could they feed off of home-crowd energy and pull off a shock win over Sweden?
It was the Ukrainians who started off much brighter; their passing and movement was too much for Sweden in the opening minutes of the first half. Andriy Yarmolenko looked particularly dangerous coming down the right side of the pitch, with Shevchenko orchestrating the attack in the middle.
Sweden came close in the 17th minute when Ibrahimovic whipped in a cross from the left side. The Ukrainian keeper, Andriy Pyatov, parried it away, but no Swedish player could latch onto the ball and it was cleared away.
Ukraine countered in the 23rd; they broke on the counter and Andriy Shevchenko took a through-ball down the right side. One-on-one with Andreas Isaksson, Shevchenko curled his shot past the wrong side of the far post. Ukraine looked dangerous though.
The two sides traded chances—Ukraine should have gone ahead through Andriy Yarmolenko if not for a block by Andreas Granqvist, and Sweden should have scored after Zlatan Ibrahimovic nicked a header off the far post.
Neither team made a breakthrough though, and the teams went into the tunnel scoreless. Ukraine surprisingly dominated possession, but would they be able to keep up the pressure?
The second half started, and both teams were at it again, trading attacking movements.
Sweden made the breakthough, however, in the 52nd minute. Sebastian Larsson crossed the ball from the right side and it should have been cleared away easily by Andriy Yarmolenko. However, the ball skipped off the back of Yarmolenko's head right to the feet of Kim Källström, who passed it right to the waiting Ibrahimovic for the tap-in.
He doesn't miss those.
Ukraine's repsonse was immediate. In the 55th minute, Yarmolenko made amends for his blatant error at the other end of the pitch by assisting Andriy Shevchenko's equalizing header.
The icon had pulled Ukraine back into the contest, and Kiev exploded.
It was Shevchenko again for Ukraine in the 62nd minute. Konoplyanka drove a hard corner near post and all the captain needed to do was flick the ball past the near post.
Two goals in seven minutes for Shevchenko and Ukraine: A miracle was unfolding.
A huge credit to Sweden, who never put their heads down and kept on fighting. Subsititute Johan Elmander perhaps should have had an equalizer in stoppage time, but he sent his close-range volley over the bar.
Ukraine pulled off the upset of the tournament thus far, stealing three points away from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden.
Here are the Men of the Match from Ukraine and Sweden.
Third Place, Ukraine: Andriy Yarmolenko
Even though it was Andriy Yarmolenko's botched clearance that led to Sweden's goal, he more than made up for it by providing the assist on Andriy Shevchenko's first goal.
Yarmolenko had a really good game on the right side, constantly making runs down the right flank and providing great crosses for the Ukrainian attack.
He contributed in both the offensive and defensive aspects of the game, and he will be remembered for both—although one more favorably than the other.
Runner-Up, Ukraine: Yevhen Konoplyanka
Like Yarmolenko on the right side, Yevhen Konoplyanka had an outstanding game on the left side.
The 22-year-old didn't seem fazed at all by the magnitude of the game ahead of him and played like a real professional.
He demanded attention on the left flank, displaying his dribbling skills, pace, and football IQ in front of the home fans—and the world.
Konoplyanka, if he keeps performing like this, will be playing abroad next season.
Man of the Match, Ukraine: Andriy Shevchenko
Who else would it have been?
The Ukrainian icon lifted his team from a goal down to score two goals in seven minutes to steal a 2-1 victory from Sweden.
You couldn't have written it any better than that.
Runner-Up, Sweden: Andreas Granqvist
Andreas Granqvist had a quiet, solid game for Sweden in the back.
Considering Sweden was almost completely outclassed today, Granqvist mostly did his job, squashing multiple Ukrainian attacks and was one of the bright spots on an otherwise disappointing Swedish team.
Runner-Up, Sweden: Christian Wilhelmsson
Okay, so I know this photo is not of today's match, but this is because Christian Wilhelmsson apparently didn't play today. Or at any point for the past two years according to Getty Images.
At any rate, Christian Wilhelmsson provided Sweden with some much-needed attacking pace nearing the end of the match. For the 20 minutes he was in the game, Wilhelmsson found pockets of space behind the otherwise-disciplined Ukrainian defense and generally caused trouble, creating a nervy last 20 minutes for the Ukraine.
Man of the Match, Sweden: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a couple chances in the game—more than one he should have put away—and scored Sweden's only goal.
Other than that, he had somewhat of a disappointing night, and didn't impose himself on the game as he should have.
That being said, Ibra was still Ibra and he was Sweden's best player on the pitch today.
Man of the Match: Andriy Shevchenko
C'mon, who else was it going to be?
Who would have thought that Ukraine would be sitting atop Group D at the end of the day? We all expected Shevchenko to get them there though, as he takes Man of the Match honors.
Who was your Man of the Match? Let me know in the comments section below!
Happy Euros, and cheers!