Ukraine – Euro 2012
What are the expectations for the team?
In a group with no clear favourite, the minimum most are hoping for is the quarter-finals. Ukraine will fancy their chances playing at home against a changing France team, an average Sweden team and an England team in disarray. Midfielder Oleksandr Aliyev takes an excellent free-kick, and the wonderfully named Yevhen Konoplyanka is a skilful young winger who could make a name for himself at his first major tournament. However, gaps elsewhere mean the side relies on ageing players like Andriy Shevchenko, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Andriy Voronin for goals and inspiration.
Is the coach popular?
As a player Oleh Blokhin was a Dynamo Kiev legend and the 1975 European Footballer of the Year. As a coach he has not reached the same heights. In his first spell as national manager he led Ukraine to their greatest international achievement, the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup, but Ukraine then failed to qualify for Euro 2008 under him. When reappointed national coach in 2011, one despairing fan complained that Blokhin's "brain is stuck in 1975". Many supporters agree, though the trading on past glories would be forgiven were Ukraine to make the semi-finals.
Have any players appeared in TV commercials or other advertising?
Shevchenko has done his fair share, including several laddish Ukrainian beer commercials. He is also the spearhead of star-crazy Pepsi's forage into his homeland, but seems to have had enough of this. His mock cheering on their latest billboard looks particularly unconvincing. In times of a globalised football business, there is not much call for appearances from his less famous compatriots, other than in the team calendar. The 2011 version featured the players topless with the Ukrainian flag painted on their cheeks. This year's is a little more dour, starting with a picture of Blokhin in his Ukraine tracksuit.
Which players are good interviewees and who are worst?
Shevchenko is the most interviewed and the least likely to say anything of real interest, perhaps thanks to years of attending stage-managed press conferences at top European clubs. But he comes across as a man who loves his job and remains modest despite his fame. The football association will be hoping he, rather than any of his less diplomatic team-mates, gets the press attention. Both Aliyev and Artyom Milevskiy have used the f-word during interviews on camera, and repeated it just in case anyone missed it the first time.
Are then any players with unusual hobbies or business interests?
The most popular hobbies seem to be driving fast cars around city centres and going to nightclubs. But the veteran goalkeeper Oleh Shovkovskiy, who describes himself as "neither a macho nor a playboy", has a degree in journalism. He quotes postmodernist Russian author Viktor Pelevin in explaining his disdain for television, and spends his free time reading. On his bedside cabinet in recent years have been books on psychology, Russian classics by Fyodor Dostoyevskiy and Mikhail Bulgakov. He has put some sage advice on his website: "We should all look at ourselves from outside at least once in lifetime."
Will there be any rehearsed goal celebrations?
You might see some crowd-shushing, baby-rocking or aeroplane-wing arms, but nothing that has not been done hundreds of times already. Even these celebrations are few and far between. The Ukrainians tend to go for pats on the back or an Alan Shearer-like arm extended into the air. Maybe a fifth goal against a lacklustre England in the Donbass Arena will inspire something more creative.
What will the media coverage be like?
Ukrainian football coverage is a pleasant surprise. The shows do not look pretty, but they give plenty of time to thoughtful discussion of games and are patient with fans that phone in to air their views. One of the television regulars is former Rangers forward and USA 94 Golden Boot winner Oleg Salenko. Salenko has Ukrainian roots but was born in and chose to play for Russia at international level. In a dual-language country he is one of many who speak Russian on television, even when asked questions in Ukrainian.
What will home support be like?
Tickets for Ukraine's first match have been sold out for a while, and there are only a few left for their other games. However, with average monthly salaries in Ukraine a little over ‚Ç¨250 (¬£205), all but the cheapest tickets will be unaffordable for many local fans. A common chant in stadiums is "Glory to Ukraine, glory to heroes!" It sounds like a simple yet powerful chant that unites a somewhat divided country; however, some see a more sinister undertone when it has been chanted alongside banners naming Nazi Second World War collaborators.
What is the local view of the England team?
No one sees them as a threat: discussions about who will get out of the group largely revolve around which two from France, Sweden and Ukraine will make it. One fan describes England as being "puffed-up a sense of their own importance, but they never deliver". Discussions around the (at the time of writing) lack of manager have been popular. In the press Salenko has suggested that an English manager will be an advantage to the Ukrainians as it will lead to direct, quick-tempo football that will give plenty of opportunities to counter-attack. There has also been bemusement about why it is taking so long to appoint someone - though one wag commented that Ukraine haven't had a manager for a year and no one seems to mind. Saul Pope
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