Shevchenko's star to shine for team at Euro 2012
Andriy Shevchenko's first European Championship will be his last shot for glory with Ukraine's national team.
Still as popular as ever with the home fans, the 35-year-old ''Sheva'' is among the first to acknowledge that his best days are behind him. So when facing Sweden, France and England in a tough Group D, it's not about him but all about the team.
Ukraine's all-time top scorer with 46 goals in 108 matches might not even appear in coach Oleg Blokhin's lineup against Sweden on Monday.
''I don't know, the manager has to decide,'' Shevchenko said. ''I don't know how many minutes I come into the game. That doesn't matter for me. I want to be ready to help the team.''
The striker said he can't play three full matches a week anymore as he needs more time for recovery, so he will discuss with Blokhin how he can be used most effectively for the team.
Until Friday, Shevchenko said, ''we have not been talking, we probably start talking later. We just come (to Kiev) and relax a little bit.''
In three recent warm-up matches against Estonia, Austria and Turkey, Shevchenko was rested for the first half but appeared for the second.
Blokhin was reluctant to comment on individual team members, but said through a translator ''all players are in good condition. We have no problems there.''
The coach declined to give any insight in who will start against Sweden.
''From now on, we will be focussing on tactics and psychological coaching,'' he said. ''You won't make players physically better in such a short time.''
His current physics is what Shevchenko separates from the standout striker he has been for the past 15 years.
The 2004 European Football of the Year, who will decide after Euro 2012 on retiring from club football as well, has been bothered by persistent back problems in recent seasons and is not the lightning fast striker he was in his heyday, when he regularly scored more than 20 goals per season for AC Milan.
In the past two years preparing for Euro 2012, Shevchenko found the net just once for the national team - during a 3-0 win over Bulgaria in October 2011.
But even when not scoring, Shevchenko might have an important impact on a partly young and inexperienced team that looked vulnerable when it lost to both Austria and Turkey last week, ending a six-match unbeaten streak.
''We have to do so many things to play better,'' Shevchenko said. ''We know why we played not good. We have to improve a lot. In every way, we will see a different Ukraine against Sweden.''
Shevchenko's unaffected popularity with home fans was demonstrated after Thursday's team training in front of thousands of spectators at Dynamo Kiev's stadium.
As soon as Blokhin ended the session, countless fans stormed the field. Most of them ran toward Shevchenko to ask for an autograph or take a picture.
While most teammates quickly left for the dressing room, Shevchenko patiently gave the fans what they asked for.
''I think it's fantastic,'' he said. ''All these people come for us, they support us. We are happy.''
Later, when the team went through the mixed zone to meet the media, Shevchenko was the only player to actually stop and take time to talk to reporters.
When he was then ordered to proceed to the team bus, he kind of apologized to the press - ''Sorry, I have to go'' - but he did not join his teammates on the bus before signing some more T-shirts, caps and shawls from fans.
No matter what Ukraine does at Euro 2012, the fans will keep loving Sheva.