It was a special night at the Olimpiysky Stadium on Monday, one of those rare occasions in football when a fairytale story unfolds that seems almost too good to be true. Andriy Shevchenko, playing at the ground where he started his career and used to be a ball-boy in the days when he idolised Oleh Blokhin, the man who is now his coach, turned the clock back with two wonderful headed goals to vanquish Sweden and spark wild celebrations in a country that has been battered and bruised in the lead-up to these finals.
Game face onYou only had to look at Shevchenko’s face to see what it meant to him.
He has been a master at putting the ball in the back of the net for the past 17 years, won numerous domestic trophies in Ukraine, Italy and England, as well as the Champions League, and collected far too many individual honours to list them all here.
He scored his first international goal back in 1996 and another 45 had followed before Monday night, including two in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, when he led Ukraine to the quarter-finals. But the Sweden game in Kiev was different.
It was special. And it was poignant, which was why Shevchenko was so emotional afterwards.
It was not just the win and his part in it and how much enjoyment it gave Ukraine’s supporters but the fact that all his hard work in the build up, when he was struggling with injury and looked like he might miss out on the chance of a golden farewell, had come to fruition.
Sheva’s first was a beautiful goal. Andriy Yarmolenko’s inswinging cross was inviting but only for a player prepared to stretch every sinew, which Shevchenko did to get ahead of Mellberg, leaping forward with both feet off the ground to power the ball beyond Andreas Isaksson.
The second was more carefully choreographed, although that should take nothing away from the way Shevchenko executed what was no more than a half-chance. His movement from the corner was brilliant, as he sneaked in front of Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic before twisting to direct a bullet header inside the near post.