An iconic figure in the Ukrainian game, Andriy Voronin formed part of a golden generation of players for the relatively youthful nation – a crop of performers that helped Ukraine reach the last eight at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. Six years on from that feat, the well-travelled former Liverpool striker is one of the most experienced members of a squad attempting to make history on home soil at UEFA EURO 2012.
Ahead of the co-hosts’ opening Group D clash with Sweden on 11 June, the Dinamo Moscow forward clearly cannot wait for the action to begin. Relaxed and in good humour, yet aware of the responsibility that representing his country in a major tournament on home soil entails, Voronin spoke to FIFA.com about this situation and the challenges ahead.
Voronin knows that he is on the verge of an historic and unique experience and that, while the fans have high expectations for their national team, Ukraine have been drawn in an extremely tough section with three continental heavyweights.
“We’ve got three important games against very strong teams,” he said. “England play very high-tempo football and know how to make the most of their excellent physical condition, while France are a young team with very talented players who are very much on the up. Let’s see what happens, but our first game is against Sweden and we need to focus on playing them before anything else.”
In the view of the 32-year-old, it is a fellow member of the striker’s union that poses the greatest threat for coach Erik Hamren’s Sweden: “Zlatan [Ibrahimovic]. He’s fantastic, he’s one of those footballers that can turn a game on their own. He’s a top player and he’s proved that at Barcelona and AC Milan. He’s top-class and, without a doubt, he’ll be a constant threat throughout the game. We’ll have to be at our best to stop him.”
A player of Voronin’s experience knows what is means to tackle games of this nature, in addition to the fact that the importance of the result can overshadow the desire for spectacular football. “It’s not going to be an open game,” he said. “Losing your first game of a competition is always a setback and any error could prove costly. That said, I think that, despite the calibre of the other teams in the group, whoever wins this match we have a great chance of reaching the next round.”
Keeping nerves under control
It certainly will not be a normal evening’s football for the veteran, who surely will not have played many games of this stature in front of the Ukraine faithful. And in spite of his battle-hardened aura, the forward did not attempt to disguise his anxiety in the build-up to Monday’s game.
“I’m a bit nervous because there’s a lot of pressure,” said Voronin. “We’re playing at home and everyone’s going to be behind us, cheering for us to get the win. It’s a great honour but also an enormous responsibility. Yes, of course I’m nervous but I’m also just as keen to get out on the pitch and repay our fans’ support.”
So, how well does Voronin expect his team to perform at the European showpiece? “We can’t really predict how far we’re going to go,” he said with a note of caution. “I think that we’ve got a good team, with a mix of talented youngsters and quality veterans. Perhaps we’re not really seen as favourites in Europe because we’re not that well-known, but I’m sure we’re going to give a very good account of ourselves out on the pitch.
“It’s not the time to talk about the future, nor our upcoming games, nor any other situations in general,” continued Voronin as the interview concluded, before underlining Ukraine’s fierce focus on their opening match. “Right now the only thing that matters is winning the Sweden game. We’re 100 per cent focused on that mission.”