Monday's hard-fought Round of 16 tie between Switzerland and Ukraine brought together the two teams with the most Gillette Best Young Player award candidates. The Swiss boast five in their squad to the Ukrainians four, but as the players took their positions at kick-off only Tranquillo Barnetta and Johan Djourou were on the pitch. By the end of the night, though, a certain Artem Milevskiy would have had his say.
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With neither team looking to take many risks, this high-stakes, all-European affair in Cologne never really exploded into life. And it also looked like being a disappointing evening for the youngsters at Germany 2006 when Johan Djourou was substituted with just 34 minutes on the clock. Similarly, his compatriot Tranquillo Barnetta worked tirelessly up front without ever freeing himself from the close attentions of the Ukrainian defence.
However, with the encounter starting to resemble a game of chess, it fell to one of the promising young footballers on the Eastern Europeans' bench to inject some energy. At 21 years of age, Artem Milevskiy had never turned out for the senior team before this FIFA World Cup and he saw just eight minutes of action in the group stage. The lanky (1.90m and 78kgs) attacking midfielder is nonetheless seen by many as the natural successor to Andriy Shevchenko, and like the deadly Chelsea marksman owes his start in the professional game to Dynamo Kiev. The similarities do not end there. Milevskiy is blessed with superb technique despite his height, in addition to being an excellent reader of the game and an ice-cool finisher. After tonight's performance, some might even say he has the edge in one crucial area.
Unsurprisingly left off the teamsheet at the start, the long-haired novice watched events unfold from the dug-out until coach Oleg Blokhin sent him on with nine minutes to go in extra-time. While it was long enough for him to harry the tiring Swiss rearguard down the right flank, it would be during the tense penalty shoot-out that Milevskiy really came into his own.
He had already caught the eye as one of the best players at the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005, but this was another level of pressure altogether. Elected to take his country's second spot-kick, Milevskiy stepped up to face the imposing Pascal Zuberbuehler knowing Shevchenko had just missed his. Was the youngster nervous? Apparently not.
Putting any doubts out of his mind, he even had the nerve to chip his effort straight down the middle as Antonin Panenka so famously did at the 1976 European Championships. Zuberbuehler could only watch as the ball sailed past him, no doubt having been the first to assume Milevskiy would never attempt something so audacious in such an important game. He was wrong, and there was more than a hint of the symbolic when Tranquillo Barnetta cracked the very next penalty against the bar.
As a result, fans from across the globe have seen the last of Switzerland's exciting armada of Gillette Best Young Player award pretenders for now, at least. But they should not be overly dismayed. After all, they might just get to know a whole lot more about the unfeasibly cool customer wearing the Number 15 shirt for Ukraine.