Tymoshchuk key to Ukraine's success at Euro 2012

Tymoshchuk key to Ukraine's success at Euro 2012

Published Jun. 10, 2012 2:12 p.m. ET

He plays deep in the midfield, and well outside the limelight. And he may just be the man to help Ukraine pull off an upset or two at the European Championship.

Anatoliy Tymoshchuk's role as a defensive midfielder could even be more critical for Ukraine's success than veteran striker Andriy Shevchenko's impact up front. As the squad's most-experienced player with 116 appearances, Tymoshchuk said teamwork between the veterans and young stars will decide whether the co-hosts make it out of a tough Group D, starting against Sweden on Monday.

''We are strong as a team, as one whole, and not thanks to some individuals,'' the 33-year-old Tymoshchuk told The Associated Press on Sunday in an email interview.

''In recent years the team's lineup has transformed,'' Tymoshchuk said. ''Now there are experienced players who took part in the World Cup (in 2006) and a group of young players who are trying to step up.''


Tymoshchuk was part of the team during that successful World Cup campaign in Germany, when Ukraine reached the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Italy.

But Ukraine will need to spring a surprise if it is to progress from a group that also includes France and England.

''We have one of the strongest groups, so any team can be our main rival, and every match is important,'' Tymoshchuk said. ''We have to play to our strong points - commitment, fighting qualities, organization and discipline.''

Ranked 52nd by FIFA, Ukraine is a clear outsider against its much higher-rated opponents - Sweden is 17th, France 14th and England sixth.

''Until the start of the first match, every team has equal chances. Then after the first round of games we can speak more clearly about who has a better chance,'' Tymoshchuk said.

The Bayern Munich defensive midfielder will need to be at his energetic and tenacious best to protect the Yellow-Blues shaky defense with his aggressive tackling.

Tymoshchuk has for years been the heartbeat of the national team after breaking onto the scene with Shakhtar Donetsk in the late 1990s. He helped establish the Miners as Ukraine's top club ahead of Dynamo Kiev.

After moving to Zenit St. Petersburg in 2007, he won the Russian league title in his first season. And in 2008, Zenit won the UEFA Cup.

He moved to Bayern Munich in 2009, but has struggled to hold down a regular starting place. But when Bayern was struck with suspensions ahead of the Champions League final against Chelsea, Tymoshchuk was called on to play in the unfamiliar position in the center of defense. He played with his trademark calmness and efficiency, but could not avoid Bayern getting beaten on penalties.

In what could be the last tournament for players of Ukraine's first golden generation since it began competing as an independent nation after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Tymoshchuk said the main aim was to qualify for the quarterfinals - and beyond.

''It's a special tournament for our team as it's taking place in our country, so we should aim for the best possible result,'' Tymoshchuk said. ''We can't wait to get out on the pitch and fight to achieve what we're aiming for.''