Ukraine’s squad will have to play the “game of their lives” as they enter uncharted territory in the European Championship quarterfinals when they face England in Rome this weekend, defender Oleksandr Zinchenko said on Friday.
Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraine, the only third-placed team to qualify from the group stages with three points, produced a battling 2-1 extra-time win over Sweden to reach their first Euro quarterfinal.
England have yet to concede a goal at the tournament and will hope to overcome Ukraine in the Italian capital, with the prospect of returning to Wembley for the semifinals and final.
Zinchenko, who plays for English champions Manchester City with England defenders Kyle Walker and John Stones, said Ukraine are under no illusions about the size of the task they face at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
“I think the numbers speak for themselves. The fact that England haven’t conceded yet shows they’ve been solid at the back,” Zinchenko told a news conference.
“Walker and Stones have had amazing seasons with City. It will not be easy to get past them. But at this stage of the tournament, anything is possible.
“We realise that to get through all the players will need to play the best game of their lives.”
Not only Zinchenko but also Shevchenko shares strong bonds with England as his family have continued to live in London since the former striker signed for Chelsea in 2006.
His son Kristian, who was born in London, is also on the books of Chelsea’s academy, while Shevchenko’s last international appearance came against England.
Having recently watched Chelsea beat Manchester City in the Champions League final, Shevchenko has no doubt about English football being the current dominant force in Europe.
“We understand clearly what team we’ll be playing tomorrow,” the former Ballon d’Or winner said. “I think English football is in its best moment right now.
“This England team are well balanced and have amazing players and I would like to note the work of my colleague (England manager) Gareth Southgate, who has indeed gathered an amazing group that plays modern football.”
In a bid to engineer Ukraine’s biggest win in major tournaments, Shevchenko has turned to his admirers in Italy, where he enjoyed his finest moments as a player with AC Milan, winning the Champions League in 2003.
While travelling supporters from the UK and Ukraine have been barred for the match in Rome due to Covid-19 curbs, Shevchenko is counting on the neutrals as well as a large Ukrainian immigrant population to cheer for his players.
“We do have a significant Ukrainian community and I invite them to come to the Stadio Olimpico to get behind the team,” Shevchenko said.
“I expect the Italians to support Ukraine as well.”