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Yearning victory under strikers shadows

india Updated: Jun 25, 2006 21:38 IST
Highlight Story

Ukraine and superstar striker Andriy Shevchenko break new ground when they face a young and hungry Switzerland in the last 16 of the World Cup in Cologne on June 26, 2006.

The Ukrainians reached the second phase in their first appearance at the World Cup after staging a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.

Outclassed 4-0 by Spain in their first group match, they looked to be heading for an early exit before Shevchenko, the team's undoubted leader, recovered from a knee injury and drove his team to a 4-0 win over Saudi Arabia.

The 29-year-old who has just joined Chelsea's star-studded squad in a deal worth 30 million pounds (43.5 million euros) showed all his experience in the 1-0 win over Tunisia which clinched the runner's-up spot in Group H, winning a penalty even though there seemed to have been no contact with the defender.

Shevchenko played down his contribution, saying the team unit would be the key to Ukraine reaching the quarter-finals where they would face either Italy or Australia, who also meet on Monday.

"All the teams are strong at this stage. If the team shows heart then with our fans behind us we can hopefully go further," Shevchenko said.

Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin knows the worth of great strikers having been one himself for Dynamo Kiev and the Soviet Union, scoring 42 times in 112 international games.

But while all eyes will be on Shevchenko, Swiss coach Kobi Kuhn has tipped the in-form Alexander Frei to be the goal-scoring surprise of the final stages.

Frei, the former bad boy of Swiss football who was sent home in disgrace after spitting at England's Steven Gerrard at Euro 2004, netted twice in Switzerland's march into the last 16.

The 26-year-old, who is hoping to wrap up a move from French club Rennes to Germany's Borussia Dortmund, notched the first goal in the 2-0 victory over Togo and caused an uproar among the South Korean players when he slid the ball home from what appeared to be an offside position in the 2-0 victory as the Swiss won Group G on Friday.

"He has come back from a long injury," Kuhn said. "He had two games with Rennes and then joined the national squad which gave him the opportunity to come back into form.

"I think he can score more goals in the competition. Whether or not he will be the best of the strikers, I don't know, but there is a chance."

Kuhn also singled out Pascal Zuberbuhler, the only goalkeeper of the first stage to keep three clean sheets.

"No goals against us in three matches - I am grateful to the defence and the goalie," said the silver-haired Kuhn.

One setback for the Swiss is the absence of Arsenal centre-back Philippe Senderos who scored the opening goal against South Korea but later fell and dislocated his shoulder.

If they reach the last eight, Switzerland would equal their best ever performance at a World Cup and Kuhn said a country not known for football fever was getting behind its best team for decades.

"Switzerland now has a way to express its national pride," he said.

"We are growing in confidence and now anything is possible. We can beat Ukraine and advance further - why not?"

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