Shevchenko hopes Euro 2024 will remind world of Ukraine’s pain

Friday, Jun 14, 2024

PARIS: Ukrainian football great Andriy Shevchenko has told AFP his country´s presence at Euro 2024 that kicks off on Friday has been a triumph over adversity and will “remind the world of what we are going through”.

Ukraine qualified through the play-offs and start their campaign against Romania in Munich on Monday. The Ukrainians entertain hopes of reaching the knockout stages having been drawn in a group which also comprises Slovakia and Belgium.

As head coach, Shevchenko guided Ukraine to the last eight in the Covid-delayed Euro 2020 but his former Dynamo Kyiv strike partner Serhiy Rebrov has worked wonders to even get them to Germany.

The 50-year-old has had to contend with the immense disruption, not to say heightened anxiety of the players, due to the war in his country sparked by Russian President Vladimir Putin´s decision to invade in February 2022.

Shevchenko, who is now president of the Ukrainian Football Association, and Rebrov are once again looked to by an expectant Ukrainian public to deliver -- they were part of the squad that reached the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals, which were also played in Germany.

Shevchenko, the son of a soldier, is justifiably proud of the resilience and spirit the team has shown in reaching the finals. “There are two components here,” he told AFP in an interview by email.

“On the one hand we showed we are competitive and continue to excel in football even during the war. “On the other, and more importantly, we proudly represent Ukraine and remind the world about what we are going through.”

Shevchenko says that just as Oleksandr Usyk´s victory over Tyson Fury to become unified heavyweight boxing world champion last month lifted morale, so a win in any of their matches at the Euros could work similar magic.

“Every victory for our country, both on and off the pitch, is crucial for every Ukrainian and especially for those who defend it right now.” When players talk of pressure it is usually about performing well in front of their fanatical fans but for some of the Ukrainian players it has been a far more serious issue of training under the daily threat of air raids.

Shevchenko is appreciative that other countries have welcomed the national side in playing their ´home´ matches on foreign turf but admits preparations for the championships for some have been stressful, to say the least. “The most difficult in our job is adapting to the quickly changing environment affected by the war,” said the 47-year-old.

“We have to work through many restrictions, including safety requirements, air raids, missiles attacks from Russia, curfews and blackouts. “These issues make it harder to function, but we are managing well.”

Shevchenko may be Rebrov´s boss now but they hope their two names alone will strike fear into the hearts of their opponents, just as they once did when they teamed up for Dynamo Kyiv in the 1990s. Their partnership not only inspired Dynamo to dominate domestic football but also shone in the Champions League, reaching the 1999 semi-finals.

However, while Shevchenko was to flourish abroad winning the Champions League with AC Milan and being awarded the 2004 Ballon d´Or, Rebrov floundered at Tottenham and West Ham. Nevertheless Shevchenko is confident Rebrov can deliver at Euro 2024 with what he says is the youngest squad at European football´s showpiece.

“We immediately connected because we both understand how the other thinks,” said Shevchenko. “Our mindset and views on football are the same. “The role of head coach is all about dedication, hard work, focus and discipline. “Being the manager of Ukraine comes with certain pressures and expectations, and I know he is managing that well.”