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Ukraine 2-1 Sweden: Seb's Sweden Stunned As Shevchenko Rolls Back The Years

Seb Larsson's Sweden came unstuck against host nation Ukraine in their first game of the tournament.
Seb Larsson's Sweden came unstuck against host nation Ukraine in their first game of the tournament.

Ukraine's preparations for the competition were hit by a dodgy salad and a resulting bout of food poisoning which knocked Oleg Blokhin's squad for six in the run up to the tournament. Blokhin was also wary of the expectations of his squad as a co-host nation ahead of a tough opening fixture against Erik Hamren's Sweden, but he needn't have worried as his side dug deep in the second half to overturn a one goal deficit and earn a memorable victory for their expectant fans with a brace from who else but Mr. Ukraine himself, Andriy Shevchenko.

But how did SAFC's Sebastian Larsson fare for the Swede's?

It would be fair to say that before the game all of the spotlight in Ukraine was upon the aging yet talismatic Andriy Shevchenko, a man who seemingly solely carries the expectations of the whole nation upon his shoulders for this competition. Whilst playing a more withdrawn, deeper role these days, Shevchenko is still easily the most important and talented player in the squad. Ukraine were expected to set themselves up looking to sit deep and catch Sweden on the counter attack, a sound tactic it would seem given the contrasting style of their opponents.

Sweden have a squad capable of scoring from all areas of the pitch and can boast a number of well known and fantastic footballers amongst their ranks including the much discussed, talismatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the promising Rasmus Elm, Olof Mellberg with that superb beard and of course our very own Sebastian Larsson yet entered the game as slight underdogs as the bookies gave Ukraine the edge presumably based upon the fantastic backing from their fans in the stadium.

The less said about the first half the better however as nerves seemed to get the better of both sides and Ukraine seemed surprised, as was I, with how content Sweden were to sit back and strangle the life out of the game. With both sides employing counter-attacking styles and seemingly having no desire to keep a hold of the football entertainment was at a premium and the half time whistle couldn't come soon enough.

The second half however was in complete contrast to the dour first and developed into one of the more engrossing games of the tournament so far. Ibrahimovic who went on to lead the line superbly with a fine mix of power and desire was rewarded for his persistence with a goal early after the break, prodding a low cross home.

Ukraine however weren't ready to roll over and die just yet and really took the game to the Swedes and were rightfully rewarded for their showing with a brace of headers from who else but Shevchenko who more than lived up to all the pre-match and indeed pre-tournament hype and stepped up to the plate as his nation's hero. His first came on 55 minutes as he stole a yard on Mellberg to meet Oleh Gusev's cross with a brave flying header, but the fans didn't have to wait long for the second as he stole in at the near post to nod home from a corner, leaving his marker Ibrahimovic in his wake.

Sweden rang the changes and pushed Ukraine till the final whistle for an equaliser and came close on a couple of occassions but just didn't have the killer composure required infront of goal to grab the goal they required and full time was greeted with wild scenes of celebration. Even John Terry must have been tempted to get involved.

From a Sunderland perspective it was a mixed bag from Seb as he suffered and contributed to a Swedish midfield that struggled to create any real chances for the forwards, either from the wings or through the middle. Larsson was also surprisingly wasteful from deadball situations, an area of his game that, as we all know, he is famed for. First of all a deep freekick from the left wing was overhit and later a poor delivery from a corner. Interestingly enough setpiece duty seemed to be shared between both Seb and Rasmus Elm as both failed to deliver any real quality from their opportunities.

Despite the tense and nervy first half however it was interesting to see how much of a licence to get forward Larsson was allowed in this Swedish setup. This adventurous mindset almost resulted in a goal for our midfielder as a cross-come-shot from Ibrahimovic caused chaos in Ukraine's penalty area, with the keeper making a meal of it and the ball almost falling to the sexy one who would have had the goal at his mercy but it was not to be.

As the game came to life and opened up more in the second half Larsson had a small hand in the opening goal of the contest. It was his initial teasing ball into the box from the right wing which was worked back into the box by Kallstrom from the left, low and hard, for Zlatan to prod home. Easily Seb's only real telling involvement in the attacking side of Sweden's game on the night.

Larsson did show his willingness to put a shift in for his side however and as Ukraine pushed and pushed for the goals that would eventually come, Seb was required to track back and dig in more than ever, especially on the hour mark where he scampered back his flank to single handedly stifle a promising attack for the home side as his team mates went walkabout.

That was about it for our man as he was replaced in the 67th minute by former Bolton Wanderer's loanee Christian Wilhelmsson. Not the best of performances from Seb but from a Sunderland perspective it was good to see him come through the game with no obvious underlying problems from the hernia operation which kept him out of O'Neill's plans at the end of the season in order to figure at the competition.

England will be Sweden and Seb's next opponents on Friday evening with Roy Hodgson's men looking to go one further following their hard-fought and relatively impressive draw with France last night and you would expect the Sunderland winger to be given the nod again.

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