Rooney must beat Ukraine’s 4th-choice keeper

If Wayne Rooney is to score on his return to the England lineup

on Tuesday, he will have to beat the fourth-choice goalkeeper of

Ukraine.

That, however, sounds easier than it is.

Andriy Pyatov made some impressive saves in the European

Championship co-host’s Group D matches against Sweden and France,

and was blameless for the three goals conceded.

”If it weren’t for Pyatov, whose play was the only bright spot

in our team, Ukraine could have been routed,” Kiev newspaper

Expres said after Friday’s 2-0 defeat to France.

That result left Ukraine with a must-win game against England,

which rallied to beat Sweden 3-2. England’s morale will be further

boosted by the prospect of Rooney’s first appearance after sitting

out a two-match suspension.

Pyatov wasn’t even No. 1 at his club Shakhtar Donetsk just

months ago. But Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin still favored him after

three ‘keepers were ruled out of Euro 2012 because of injury and

suspension.

The 27-year-old Pyatov is used to having to fight for his

place.

In 2007, he became the regular reserve with the national team

for veteran goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy, who has 92 caps.

Pyatov was part of the squad that reached the quarterfinals at

the 2006 World Cup, but didn’t play.

At club level, Pyatov joined Shakhtar that same year but faced –

and won – a long battle for the No. 1 spot with Rustam

Khudzhamov.

Pyatov helped Shakhtar win the UEFA Cup in 2009 but spent much

of last season in the shadow of newcomer Oleksandr Rybka, who also

overtook Pyatov in the national team’s hierarchy.

But in January, Rybka was banned for two years from world

football following a doping offense, putting Pyatov back in the

limelight. He helped Shakhtar win the national championship for a

third straight year in April.

When Shovkovskiy was ruled out from Euro 2012 because of

shoulder surgery, and his expected replacement Andriy Dykan from

Spartak Moscow did not recover in time from a facial injury, Pyatov

suddenly became Ukraine’s No. 1 ‘keeper.

The absence of the top three keepers seemed to further weaken

Ukraine’s already-shaky defense. In the past 12 months, Ukraine

conceded 23 goals in 12 friendly games.

However, Blokhin hasn’t had to regret his choice so far.

”It’s hard to single out a player who did well on the pitch

because we lost 2-0,” the coach said after the France game. ”But

he played well. He did what he could and I am fully satisfied with

his work.”

Pyatov wasn’t really tested in the first half of his team’s 2-1

win over Sweden, though he was saved by the far post after being

wrongfooted by a header from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

In the second half, he was left with no chance when Ibrahimovic

scored the opening goal, but denied the Swedes an equalizer with

several convincing saves in the last 20 minutes.

In the 2-0 defeat by France, Pyatov’s performance gave Ukraine’s

much-criticized defense stability – but only for the first

half.

He stopped a curling 20-meter effort by Gael Clichy, dived to

save a shot from close range by the unmarked Jeremy Menez, and

reacted quickly to push Philippe Mexes’ header out of the top

corner.

Though he conceded goals to Menez and Cabaye early in the second

half, and later was placed well to prevent both Karim Benzema and

Samir Nasri from scoring with two low shots.

After the France game, Blokhin said he hoped ”that the players

understand that the Euros aren’t the same level as the domestic

league. You need to play every game at a high level, not just one

game.”

So far, Pyatov has shown he’s got the message.