Ukraine v Sweden: The Preview
Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine will make their European Championships debut in front of a partisan home crowd in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
Oleg Blokhin's squad have not enjoyed an ideal build up to the tournament after revealing that a number of his players were taken ill with food poisoning before their friendly warm-up defeat against Turkey. Blokhin has confirmed however that the likes of Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and former Liverpool forward Andriy Voronin have recovered sufficiently to return to the starting line-up.
Opponents Sweden travel to Ukraine in good heart after a rich vein of form on the back of four straight victories, and qualified for the tournament after finishing as the best second-placed team in qualifying.
Ahead of their first ever game in the European Championships, Ukraine have been installed as 6/4 favourites. Although this match is officially at a neutral venue, the majority of fans will be fanatically behind the Ukrainians. None that this counted for much of an advantage recently though, the Zhovto- Blakytni (Yellows & Blues) have lost four of their last eight outings and superstitiously, none of the last eight host nations (including Poland on Friday) have won their opening matches at the Euros.
These stats will surely reinforce the confidence that Sweden have in themselves to not only win this match (2/1) but also to advance from Group D (To Qualify 7/4). Led by AC Milan's mercurial frontman Zlatan Ibrahimovic (6/1 first scorer, 6/4 anytime) the Swedes won eight of their ten matches in qualification, sealing their place at Euro 2012 with an impressive 3-2 victory over Holland in Stockholm.
A shortage of goalkeepers is a huge worry for the hosts with Olexandr Shovkovskiy (shoulder), Andriy Dykan (concussion) and Olexandr Rybka (suspension for doping) all on the sidelines. That means Shakhtar Donetsk's Andriy Pyatov will start in goal, against a Swedish forward line containing the aforementioned Zlatan Ibrahimovic and PSV's Ola Toivonen (9/1 first goalscorer, 11/4 anytime) , who both enjoyed prolific seasons in front of goal.
With the likes of Rasmus Elm, Sebastian Larsson and Johan Elmander also in the squad, the Swedish are not just attending the tournament to make up the numbers. Proven Premier League and European experience runs throughout their team so I doubt they will feel daunted by the prospect of squaring up to Ukraine.
After making their major finals debut at the World Cup in 2006, Ukraine are still having to rely on star striker Andriy Shevchenko, even though the veteran hitman could be forced to start from the bench after struggling to find full fitness of late. The former AC Milan and Chelsea striker can be backed at 8/1 to open the scoring and 15/8 to notch anytime.
Andriy Voronin and Marko Devic are expected to start up front in Kiev but Artem Milevskiy will also be pushing for a start in his favoured second striker role. The problem is for Ukraine is that these strikers have over a hundred caps between them for their country but none have yet to get into double figures goal wise. Milevskiy is the favourite to open the scoring out of the three at 7/1 while Devic can be backed at 8/1 and Voronin 9/1.
In what could be a fascinating encounter, I'm going to plump for an opening game stalemate and a 1-1 draw. Priced at 11/2, the confident Swedes will be stifled by the organized Ukraine and I would go as far as backing Sweden/Draw in the Double Result market at 14/1.