Green Falcons not to be underestimated at the World Cup: Ukraine’s Andrey Shevchenko

Author: GARY MEENAGHANSun, 2018-03-25 15:21ID: 1521969806541467100MARBELLA: Ukraine coach Andrey Shevchenko, fresh from watching his side fail to beat Saudi Arabia, has suggested Russian hearts could be broken by the Kingdom’s Green Falcons at the opening night of the FIFA World Cup in Moscow.
Given the frosty relations between the two Eastern European nations, such a belief should be of little surprise. Yet Shevchenko was speaking pragmatically rather than patriotically after witnessing his team labor to a draw with Juan Antonio Pizzi’s rapidly improving Saudi side on Friday night.
Ukraine, ranked 35th in Fifa’s world rankings, are positioned 28 places above Russia, and showed their superiority in spells against Pizzi’s men during an entertaining 1-1 draw in rain-swept Marbella. Artem Kravets opened the scoring with a free header after 32 minutes for Ukraine, but Saudi rallied, quickly equalized through Fahad Al-Muwallad, and for long periods of the second-half were the better side.
The Green Falcons, who at 69 in the rankings are the lowest-placed nation at the 32-team tournament, could even have sneaked a win were it not for lack of composure in front of goal.
Shevchenko, while reluctant to focus too much on the opposition, said he was impressed by the intensity and style in which Pizzi has Saudi playing and believes a Russian win inside the Luzhniki Stadium on June 14 is no certainty.
“I don’t have to think about what will happen at the World Cup because we are not playing there,” said Shevchenko, whose side narrowly finished third in qualifying behind Iceland and Croatia. “We had enough chances to win this game, especially in the first half, but in the second half, we did not have the control that we demand of the players. Credit to our opponent.
“I liked how Saudi played: They were very compact, they tried to press; they have some very good players; and I think Saudi Arabia have a good chance [against Russia].”
Before the match, Shevchenko had spoken to his former national team strike partner Sergei Rebrov, who is now head coach of Al Ahli in Jeddah, in a quest to gain some insight into the opposition. Rebrov had warned of the Saudi national team’s pace and technical capacities.
“I was talking to Sergei about Saudi Arabia’s players and what to expect,” Shevchenko said. “He told me they are quick, technical and try to control the play. And he was right. I was not surprised. But we had enough chances to win this game. We should have closed it out in the first half. After we scored, we had two or three chances, then they scored from a corner and we lost control a little.”
Pizzi and Saudi will be hoping to continue their upward trajectory when they face Roberto Martinez’s Belgium on Tuesday night in Brussels. While victory would be little short of incredible for an inexperienced squad short on match-fitness and shorn of star playmaker Nawaf Al-Abed, a draw would ensure Shevchenko is joined by several more admirers pondering whether Russia’s long-awaited curtain-raiser could quickly turn into a nightmare for the hosts.
Main category: SportsTags: footballsoccerSaudi Arabia2018 FIFA World CupUkraineRUSSIA WORLD CUPrelated_nodes: Saudi Arabia coach ‘very happy’ as Green Falcons show World Cup pedigree against UkraineFive things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 1-1 draw with UkraineJuan Antonio Pizzi’s Saudi Arabia need to acclimatize quickly against tougher opponents in Ukraine, Belgium friendlies

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