Ukraine’s legendary striker Andriy Shevchenko is dreaming of leading his nation to home glory in Euro 2012 as he heads into the swan song of a glorious career that took him to Europe’s finest leagues.
The life of Shevchenko, who first emerged in the 1990s at Dynamo Kiev under late, great coach Valeriy Lobanovskiy, has now turned full circle as he plays out the twilight of his career for Dynamo Kiev and in Euro 2012 at home.
Shevchenko’s career saw him collect the European Footballer of the Year award in 2004 during a glorious seven-year spell with AC Milan, then an unsuccessful stint at Chelsea was followed by a return to Kiev in 2009.
“When I was a child, I dreamed a lot,” Shevchenko told reporters as he watched the Euro trophy start its journey through Ukraine. “I dreamed sincerely and with all my heart. So, I ask all Ukrainians to believe with all their hearts that the dreams of Euro 2012 can become reality and this also concerns the dream of the Ukrainian national team in the final. We need to dream about victory with all our hearts.”
Even during his many years abroad, Shevchenko remained a proud patriot and captained Ukraine to the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup.
Shevchenko has been the standard bearer of his nation’s soccer hopes for more than 15 years and nothing would cap his career better than glory in Euro 2012, which Ukraine is co-hosting with Poland.
Few Ukrainians have forgotten his hat-trick in Dynamo’s famous 4-0 drubbing of Barcelona at the Camp Nou in 1997, where a young and ferociously dynamic Kiev side were guided by his mentor Lobanovskiy.
When AC Milan won the Champions League in 2003, Shevchenko poignantly took the trophy to the monument in Kiev to Lobanovskiy, who had died of a stroke in 2002.
Ukraine’s hopes in Euro 2012 have been dented by being drawn in a group of death with heavyweights France and England, as well as the traditionally tough Sweden. They are also burdened by injury woes and a goalkeeping crisis, but the hopes of Shevchenko, now 35, are undimmed.
“We have a young team with great potential. Much will depend on how the guys cope with the psychological pressure. If they can cope with that, we have a good chance of making the knockout stage,” he said. “The best part of our game is quickly turning defense into attack, we have a number of quick players and our game will be built around counterattacks, with the use of the wings.”
Shevchenko had admitted that with the years going by, he is not in top form and is still 30 percent short of the full physical fitness required for the championships.
“If I do not feel good, if I do not feel I can play at the highest level, then I won’t play at Euro 2012, but with every match my condition is improving,” he said.
Shevchenko knows his playing years are numbered and he also endured the bitter disappointment this season of seeing his beloved Dynamo narrowly beaten in the race for the Ukrainian title by archrivals Shakhtar Donetsk.
“After the end of the Euro, I will sort out the future of my career. I will see to what extent health allows me to do this,” he said.