KIEV, June 9 (Reuters) - Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin has a couple of problems at Euro 2012 - he is worried his forwards do not score enough goals and his defenders cannot tackle.
Brought in to lead the side just over a year ago, he regrets he did not have more time to prepare the co-hosts for the finals in which they face Sweden in Group D on Monday, before taking on England and France.
“I was short of a few months,” the 59-year-old coach said in an interview posted on Ukraine’s official Euro 2012 website on Saturday.
He said strikers of other nationalities had banged in plenty of goals across Europe this season but the top goalscorer in Ukraine’s championship, Evhen Seleznyov, had managed only 14.
“Excuse me, but this level is very low for our championship,” Blokhin said. “If a forward can’t create a situation where he’s able to poke the ball home, then he’s not a forward for me.”
Listing some of the foreigners who line up regularly for teams in Ukraine, he said: “In our case, it’s difficult even to find a forward playing permanently for his club.”
Blokhin, who led Ukraine to the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup and is a former European footballer of the year, said there were long-running problems with Ukraine’s defence.
“We have problems related to both the central defenders and full-backs,” he said. “Figuratively speaking, our defenders do not even tackle properly.”
Despite this, Blokhin, who returned to the post in April 2011, said it was not a bad thing to be seen as outsiders.
“I think the fact that we are not regarded as favourites is good. There will be less pressure on the team,” he said.
“Our first task is to qualify from the group. Then we shall see. We have the example of Greece at the European Championship in Portugal (in 2004): the national team which was not the strongest became the winner.”
Andriy Yarmolenko, dropped for Ukraine’s 2-0 defeat by Turkey in a friendly on Tuesday, said after training that he had recovered from a stomach muscle injury in time for Monday’s match against Sweden.
“I don’t know what happened. I just felt a pain in my leg. The scan showed nothing serious,” he said. “The game against Sweden will be significant in terms of psychology. Victory would let us feel more at ease in the next matches.”
Taras Mykhalyk, who is expected to partner his Dynamo Kiev colleague Evhen Khacheridi in the centre of defence, said it would be vital to smother the threat of tall Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
“Yes, he loves working with his elbows but it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is not to back down to him physically,” Mykhalyk said.
President Viktor Yanukovich visited the Ukrainian players on Friday to try to inspire them, and veteran Andriy Shevchenko presented him with a team T-shirt with the number 12. (Writing by Timothy Heritage, editing by Justin Palmer)