KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s young players are so desperate to please their home fans at Euro 2012 that coach Oleg Blokhin fears they will be unable to restrain their attacking instincts and could leave the defence exposed.
“We’re like a good horse. The players are chomping at the bit and I need to keep them calm,” Blokhin told reporters on the eve of Ukraine’s opening Group D match against Sweden on Monday.
“Sometimes young players think they can do more than they can. At a tournament like this leaders should emerge. But youth can get the better of them and it’s very hard to make them play defensively. They’re young and hot.”
Blokhin was speaking at the national stadium in the capital Kiev which will be awash with blue yellow, the two teams’ colours, when they become the last of the 16 teams to take the field at the finals.
Ukraine, co-hosting the finals with Poland, have much to prove after defeats in their last warm-up matches against Austria and Turkey, who did not qualify for the finals.
Blokhin has struggled to find a balance since taking over as coach only a year ago and said in a recent interview that his players were goal-shy and could not tackle properly.
Despite this, and huge national expectations, he said: “I don’t see any big nerves.”
Blokhin, back in the post in which he led Ukraine to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2006, said Sweden were a strong side who had more to offer than just the goalscoring skills of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
“If anyone says they are outsiders, I will not agree,” he said. “They are a very experienced team. They’ve played together for a long time.”
Blokhin gave nothing away about his tactics or line-up, although he said he already knew which players would start.
He said he would refuse to see defeat against Sweden as a tragedy because Ukraine would still have a chance of making it out of a group that also includes France and England.
Veteran forward Andriy Shevchenko, 35, indicated he did not know whether he would be in the starting line-up at a tournament likely to be his international swansong.
But he said: “For me it’s an extremely important tournament ... it’s very important for me as a player who has played for his country for 16 years to play before my home crowd.”
Ukraine also has much to prove as a nation after a BBC documentary showed racism on the terraces in club football in the former Soviet republic.
“I don’t want to talk about racism. There is no racism in Ukraine,” Blokhin said. “This is a political matter. I don’t think it has anything to do with football. If there are any incidents, they will not be in Ukraine.”
Editing by Ed Osmond