Ukraine’s Euro 2012 party started in style when they sealed a thrilling 2-1 comeback win over Sweden as Andriy Shevchenko struck twice to complete a perfect evening for the co-hosts in Group D on Monday.
The 35-year-old Shevchenko powered in two headers, canceling out Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s opening goal and reminding everyone of his sheer class, grit and determination.
Shevchenko left the pitch to a standing ovation after being substituted and the final whistle triggered wild celebrations in the stands, before “Sheva” embraced coach Oleg Blokhin and ran toward the crowd with his arms raised in celebration.
Ukraine’s first win in a European Championship match also resounded in Lviv, with thousands of happy fans walking through the streets chanting “Ukraine” and “Sheva, Sheva.”
In Kiev, horns were honking around the Olympic Stadium as thousands of fans headed toward the fan zone next to Independence Square.
The win was not only down to Shevchenko as Ukraine played neat soccer in the first half and Sweden looked nothing like the team who had scored 31 goals in their qualifying campaign.
“Go Ukraine” was played at a deafening volume to the sound of old-school techno music, before the kickoff in a friendly and festive atmosphere, with the fans appearing as one wearing yellow shirts, either Swedish or Ukrainian.
With UEFA president Michel Platini among the crowd, none of the racism fears that have clouded the buildup to the tournament materialized as the game was played in a loud, but peaceful Olympic Stadium.
Ukraine, who had lost their last two warm-up games, sit proudly on top of Group D after France and England shared the points in Donetsk.
“We have good chances to qualify from the group,” man-of-the-match Shevchenko said.
“For us to win these games, we need 11 players on top, together. Today, maybe five or six showed the quality that I want. That is not enough,” Sweden coach Erik Hamren said.
Blokhin’s team were focused throughout, showing composure at the back and nice movements in the midfield, before playing their hearts out to preserve their advantage.
An hour after the final whistle, a few fans were still looking at the giant screens in the stadium showing countless replays of Shevchenko’s brace.
Sweden, instead, seemed to rely heavily on Ibrahimovic and appeared short of ideas, especially in a dull first half.
The tall striker and his team stepped up a gear after the break, but sloppy defending on set-pieces and a lack of sharpness up front proved too much to overcome against Ukraine, who became the first side to come from behind and win at Euro 2012.