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Friday, December 9, 2011

Euro 2012: England will be happy with draw to face hosts Ukraine

Wayne Rooney could make his return to the England side against Ukraine, the co-hosts, if his appeal against a three match Uefa ban next Thursday is successful. Ukraine are ranked 55 in the world, the team is led by the 35-year-old Andriy Shevchenko, and the nation has not played a competitive game for two years due to their status as hosts, so England may feel this is the easiest test of a group despite the obvious advantages a home side will enjoy.

Yet Shevchenko has 46 goals in his 105 games, and he scored as recently as 7 October in a 3-0 win over Bulgaria. And in Bayern Munich's Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, a midfielder with 113 caps, Dynamo Kyiv goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy (90 caps), Dynamo Moscow's Andriy Voronin (once of Liverpool, 70 caps) and Kyiv's Oleh Husyev (67 caps), the former Chelsea forward leads a side experienced enough not to be fazed by Rooney and company.

Ukraine's record from their past 12 outings (all friendlies) stands at six wins, five defeats and a draw. The last major tournament the nation qualified for was the 2006 World Cup where, under the current coach, Oleh Blokhin, they lost in the quarter-finals to Italy, the eventual champions.

How Blokhin would feel about Rooney being able to play is unclear, especially as the striker played very well the last time the two met – in a 2010 World Cup qualifier two years ago. After Fabio Capello's team claimed a 2-1 victory at Wembley, in the first game between them, they travelled to Dnipropetrovsk in October 2009.

England had already qualified for South Africa before losing a feisty match 1-0. Rob Green received a red card, while Capello remonstrated angrily with the referee Damir Skomina after the game as he had initially tried to send off Rio Ferdinand. The hope is that the chaotic nature of the game will not prove an augury of how Ukraine hosts the tournament: Green was pelted with missiles, the local fire brigade were called to put out flares – one fan even managed to set fire to his sleeve.

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