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Ukraine's veil of secrecy baffles Spain

Security guards ensured that reporters were not watching through the bushes. Schedule | Teams | Results | Photos | Games

india Updated: Jun 14, 2006 16:55 IST

Ukraine maintained the shroud of secrecy surrounding its World Cup preparations, preventing the media from accessing its players for the second day in a row.

Ukraine, appearing at the World Cup for the first time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is set to play its opening Group H match against Spain on Wednesday.

Reporters and broadcasters were permitted to watch the team warm up for about 15 minutes on Sunday and Monday, before being commanded to leave the stadium. Fans were barred from watching altogether.

Security guards prowled the perimeter of the grounds, making sure reporters were not watching through the bushes.

The team's covertness baffled members of the Spanish media, many of whom made the trip from Kamen - on the West side of the country - where the Spanish team is based. Soccer powerhouse Spain traditionally has open training sessions and allows liberal access to its players.

Even the Ukrainian team's hotel is remote, tucked away in the dark secluded coniferous forests of Potsdam and heavily guarded by security on the look out for uninvited visitors.

Blokhin's near total ban on contact between his players and outsiders is reminiscent of the secrecy that the Soviet system was once famous for.

Blokhin is the product of that system, a disciple of legendary Valery Lobanovsky, who used similar practices when he prepared Dynamo Kiev for a 1999 European Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich in Germany.

Despite a strict demeanour and his no-nonsense regimen, Blokhin was all smiles on Monday and looked prepared for a beach party, wearing shorts, a gray tank top that broke the team's yellow and blue colour code, and baseball cap.

He playfully kicked Oleg Gussev in the rump as the player returned to the field after a run-in with a goal post that required a bandage to his fore head.

Andriy Shevchenko seemed fully recovered from his knee injury, and appeared to have discarded a white bandage that wrapped his left leg in earlier training sessions.

"If he is not wearing a bandage, that is good news for us," team spokesman Igor Miroshnyschenko said.

The former European player of the year sprained his left knee while playing with former club AC Milan against Parma on May 7.

Blokhin has been cagey about whether he will field Shevchenko in Ukraine's opening match against Spain in Leipzig on Wednesday. He is expected to wait until an hour before game time to announce his decision.