Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 24 News List

World Cup: Ukrainians go down swinging against Italy

DPA , HAMBURG

Italy's Luca Toni, foreground, holds back Ukraine's Andriy Gusin during the Italy v Ukraine quarter-final match at the Hamburg Stadium on Friday. Italy won the match 3-0.

PHOTO: AP

Quarter-finals

Italy 3, Ukraine 0Ukraine's peculiar and surprisingly successful World Cup campaign is finally over. They went down swinging.

Europe's only debutant to the tournament, the Ukrainians insulted their hosts, picked fights with the media, declared FIFA a poorly-run organization, and ignored their fans. The soccer they showed was, arguably, the World Cup's least attractive.

But after a run of five games ending with a 3-0 defeat against Italy on Friday, the East Europeans nevertheless elbowed their way into the history books, becoming the first former Soviet team ever to pass the group phase of the World Cup, performing better in a World Cup than any Soviet team ever did, and taking the scalps of Tunisia and Switzerland along the way.

The Ukrainians got their results by employing a hard-bitten brand of defensive soccer; seasoned with a solid helping of luck, and the sweat of mostly average players turning in gritty performances against clearly classier sides.

Demolished by Spain in their initial match, the Ukrainians became only one of three teams in the history of the World Cup to turn around its fortunes, and advance from the group phase after losing their first game by a 4-0 or greater margin.

Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin, a former Soviet soccer great, made clear from the outset he had little interest in entertaining fans.

"Look at the scoreboard," Blokhin snapped, when asked his response to charges Ukraine's football style was as dull.

"Other teams playing attractive football have gone home, and we're still here," he said.

Hard, cold, cash was the main motivator of the Ukrainian effort, with the Federation of Football of Ukraine (FFU) guaranteeing players whopping bonuses for winning every game past group.

Each member of the side, by the time of their defeat by Italy, will be due some 350,000 euros (US$438,000) -- a sum promised German players only if they actually manage to win the World Cup.

"If you want people to work, you have to pay them," he said.

The Ukrainians began building their reputation as the World Cup's least polite participants within minutes of their arrival at a high-security hotel deep in a pine forest outside the city Potsdam, selected by Blokhin to isolate his side from the rest of the world.

Potsdam rolled out the red carpet, with politicians on hand to make speeches on how happy they were Blokhin had selected the East German town for his team's training base. German children dressed in Ukrainian folk costumes were dancing Ukrainian folk dances, as the Ukrainian team exited its bus.

The team shoved its way into the hotel, whose staff locked out children hoping for autographs. Blokhin declined to meet with fans or the press, swearing under his breath "We've got to get the [expletive] out of here!"

The next day, the Potsdam city council held a welcome celebration in the city square for the Ukrainians, who ignored the invitation.

If Blokhin's attitude towards fans was stand-offish, his relations with the media were disastrous. Of all the teams at the World Cup, only Ukraine adamantly refused to provide English-language translators -- leaving at times dozens of international reporters without a clue what Blokhin had said at a press conference.

"Not my problem," Blokhin barked.

"I'm not going to answer questions I can't understand," he said.

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