Ukraine show the bigger names how it should be done: Having spent two consecutive days watching Spain, then France turn a lot of possession into very little goal threat, it was refreshing to see Ukraine’s incredibly fluid, attacking style. With Tymoshchuk protecting, they often left what was effectively a front four high up the pitch, pushing Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko forward to spread the Sweden defence. Ably assisted by the wing backs pushing forward, particularly Gusev on the right, Ukraine set up to take the game to Sweden.
More important than this, though, was the movement. Whenever Nazarenko had the ball in midfield he had players making runs, trying to find space, and dragging defenders out of position. Rarely did Ukrainian possession descend into the static sideways passing displayed by Spain and France – Ukraine were trying to work their way through the Swedish defence instead of simply waiting for it to capitulate by itself. Having said that, their shooting when they finally created chances was woeful in the first half, with Shevchenko in particular dragging a great chance wide of the far post.
Sweden muted in the first half: While Isaksson was tested less than he should have been by the wayward Ukrainian finishing, Pyatov had even less to be concerned with. Ibrahimovic in particular was awful; notionally playing off Rosenberg, he was supposed to be the outlet for Sweden, holding up the ball and relieving the pressure. Instead, he offered very little in the first half, and when he was finally presented with a glorious chance late on in the half, he headed it wide. It glanced off the foot of the post, but if anything that made the attempt look much better than it was, as it was never going to find its way into the gap at the far post.
Ibrahimovic improved massively in the second half, holding the ball up, playing in his teammates, and scoring a tap in after a missed header from Yarmolenko and poor marking from Mikhalik.
The Sheva show: Having looked a tiny bit like any other 35 year old local hero trotted out to appease the fans in the first half, Shevchenko rolled back the years in the second period, scoring a brace with classic near post runs. The first was yet another example of Ukraine pushing forward down the right, as Gusev fed Yarmolenko and Shevchenko made a brilliant run across Mellberg to head in his cross at the near post. Then he made a better run for the second, literally running rings around Ibrahimovic to glance in a corner through the gap that Lustig had left between him and the post. Fairy tale stuff for the hosts.
Sweden seized control of the game at this point as they searched for an equaliser, but Ukraine held on.
Not having to qualify as hosts is usually considered a bad thing as it means heading into a tournament having played zero competitive football for two years. However, it can also allow you to surprise your opponents once the tournament starts, and France and England must be more than a little concerned by this performance. The odds of Ukraine qualifying have fallen dramatically, and by the way a certain Shevchenko leads the goalscoring charts after the first round of matches.
Sweden were poor. They seemed surprised by the onslaught they faced in the first half, and while they reached half time at 0-0 and improved in the second half, ended up losing and couldn’t really be aggrieved with the result. England lie in wait, and a quick response is needed or their tournament could be over before it has really begun.