Ukraine talent needs finishing touch up top
A chapter closed after Tuesday's defeat at the Donbass Arena, with Ukraine's former European Player of the Year Andriy Shevchenko announcing his retirement from international football after a knee injury ruined his chance of upsetting England.
Shevchenko has been the face of post-Soviet Ukrainian football, a source of national pride and for once the over-used phrase 'ambassador' is fitting for a man who has always tried to present his country to the rest of the world in a positive way without ever veering close to boorish nationalism.
His 48 goals in 111 appearances will be hard to replace as will his presence in the dressing room, where his understated approach has worked well alongside the almost gruff bluntness of coach Oleg Blokhin.
The 35-year-old former AC Milan and Chelsea striker has quietly passed on his experience and advice to younger players who ran the risk of being overawed by the unprecedented national attention on them at this tournament.
Now it falls to a younger generation and both Shevchenko and Blokhin believe Ukraine have the quality available to make sure they are back at future tournaments.
"I am glad for our young players who played well," said Shevchenko. "This team has a bright future".
Ukraine recovered to beat Sweden 2-1 on a memorable night in Kiev, thanks to Shevchenko's double, and pushed France hard before fading after half-time and losing 2-0.
They then dominated against England for 45 minutes in their final Group D game and probably deserved a draw, especially after Hungarian officials failed to give a goal when the ball appeared to be over the goal-line before it was cleared.
In their last two games in Donetsk, where Ukraine have yet to win in seven games, Blokhin's team were just missing a killer touch near goal - a final pass or a lethal finish.
A core of players from the squad are in their early twenties, including left-back Evhen Selin, central defenders Evhen Khacheridi and Yaroslav Rakitskiy, midfielders Denys Garmash and Evhen Konoplyanka.
"There are a group of young players there who will stay in this team," said Blokhin, who now must focus on the World Cup qualifiers which start in September.
Left midfielder Konoplyanka, 22, has been the player who has impressed most - his vision, touch and imagination will surely have attracted the attention of richer clubs than his current team Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
With Shevchenko gone and Andriy Voronin, who turns 33 next month, also quitting the national team, the key task for Blokhin is to find an international quality goal-scorer.
The 22-year-old Andriy Yarmolenko was used in a wide role in this tournament and showed a good knack of getting free of his marker and into dangerous positions but he must develop a more clinical approach in the box to be a solution at centre-forward.
Unfortunately for Blokhin, the