The Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Ukraine midfielder tells FourFourTwo he can't wait for Euro 2012
Euro 2012 represents the biggest sporting event ever to take place in Ukraine. How has the mood in the country been during the build-up?
Preparations have been going really well. There has been a massive amount of infrastructural work, with some fantastic new stadiums. Everyone, the players included, is really excited about it.
Does the fact that you’ll be playing on home turf feel like an advantage, or does it mean you will face added pressure?
We’ll have lots of support behind us and the stadiums will be familiar, and that has to be a good thing: the team will be extra motivated to do well in our own backyard. But we do have to be realistic. We’re in a very strong group. We are setting ourselves the goal of qualifying for the knockout stages, and then we’ll see what happens. Nobody expected us to reach the last eight in Germany. Many of those players are still in the squad, so nobody can say we lack experience. We’d love to match that achievement or go even further. If we get out of the group, anything is possible.
What are Ukraine’s main strengths going into the finals?
We’ve got a squad that will be physically well prepared, and a good team spirit. We also have a lot of very experienced players, such as Andriy Shevchenko and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, who are capable of directing play and of turning a game. On our day, we can be a match for anyone.
The likes of yourself, Tymoshchuk and Shevchenko, to name just a few, are all over 30 now. Are there any youngsters coming through who are likely to make their mark this summer?
One player who stands out is my partner in midfield, Andriy Yarmolenko, who is still in his early twenties but has been on the international scene for a few years. He’s a big talent.
The national team seemed to lose their way a bit following failure to qualify for Euro 2008. Are you now back on track?
I think that’s a fair comment. But the return of Oleg Blokhin as head coach [in April 2011] has had a big impact. He has gone a long way to restoring confidence and team spirit. And the fact that he was the one who took us to the World Cup in 2006 counts for a lot – he’s been there before.
Who do you see as the biggest obstacles to your chances of progressing from Group D?
I think England are probably favourites for the group, and then France. Both teams are what you’d call international heavyweights with lots of top-class players. But then Sweden are also very experienced at this level and very well organised – we played them last year in a friendly and they beat us but it was a close game – so we certainly won’t be underestimating them either.
Interview Dan Brennan. From the June 2012 issue of FourFourTwo.