Shevchenko bids international football farewell
© AFP

Andriy Shevchenko bade an emotional farewell to international football on Tuesday, stepping out of the limelight after Ukraine's elimination from the UEFA EURO 2012 at the hands of England.

Ukraine had needed a victory in their final Group D encounter to reach the last eight at a European Championship for the first time ever, but a 1-0 loss saw them meet the same fate as fellow co-hosts Poland.

A knee injury sustained in the 2-0 defeat by France kept Shevchenko out of the starting line-up, but with Ukraine chasing an equaliser, the familiar chant of 'Sheva! Sheva!' began to echo around Donetsk's Donbass Arena.

He made his entrance in the 70th minute as a replacement for Marko Devic and his every touch brought roars of encouragement tumbling down from the tribunes. He teed up Sergei Nazarenko for a 20-yard shot that flew over the bar, but his most telling contribution was a mistimed sliding tackle on England winger Ashley Young that earned him a booking from referee Viktor Kassai.

At the final whistle he embraced John Terry, his former Chelsea team-mate, before heading down the tunnel with the adulation of the fans ringing in his ears. "It was my last official game for Ukraine," he confirmed afterwards.

"A bit later on I will arrange a farewell game to say goodbye to the supporters. What are my plans now? I simply want to go home and put my arms around my kids and kiss my wife."

At 35, the national icon bows out of competitive international football with a record of 111 caps and 48 goals, making him his country's leading all-time goalscorer. He has played a role in some of Ukraine's most famous successes, notably spearheading the team that reached the last eight at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ before falling to eventual champions Italy.

It was my last official game for Ukraine.
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine forward

Six years ago, however, Shevchenko was in his pomp. After seven prolific years at AC Milan, his name had become a byword for lethal finishing and his legacy was still to be tarnished by the disappointing three-year spell at Chelsea that began after the tournament.

At UEFA EURO 2012 he was in the twilight of his career, and yet his match-winning headed double in the opening 2-1 win over Sweden proved that the goalscoring instincts that saw him claim 175 goals in 322 games for Milan remained intact.

The sight of Shevchenko wheeling away from the Swedish goal after scoring the equaliser in Kyiv, an expression of unbelieving ecstasy etched across his face, is already one of the tournament's defining images.

The knee and back injuries that dogged him last season tempered expectations about his capacity to make an impact at EURO 2012. Instead, the 2004 Ballon d'Or winner rediscovered his role as the national hero and left one last memory of his ability to send waves of excitement rolling across the country.

Three years ago he returned to Dynamo Kyiv, the club he joined as a nine-year-old in 1986 and led to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League 13 years later in 1999. His contract is due to expire next month and although Dynamo have suggested he could be offered a new deal, the player himself has hinted he could be tempted to move abroad.

His brace against Sweden proves he still has much to offer, and no-one in Ukraine will begrudge their favourite sporting son an exotic final pay-day overseas. As for the team he leaves behind, Shevchenko has high hopes. "I hope our supporters are happy with our performance," he said. "I am glad for our young players who played well tonight. This team has a bright future."