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International Soccer
By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
Sheva walks away as a Ukrainian legend
Andriy Shevchenko is the measuring stick by which future Ukrainian stars are being measured.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - To the rest of the world, Ukraine's 2-1 win over Sweden on June 11 in its Group D opener was just another brick in the wall that is Euro 2012.

But to a nation of roughly 45 million people, it was a night that will live long in the memory, a night that a national hero provided his country with one final indelible moment.

On that night, captain Andriy Shevchenko turned back the clock and scored a pair of second-half goals to lift his team to a comeback win that put it on course to make a run at a spot in the quarterfinals.

But following a 1-0 defeat to England on Tuesday, which was the team's second straight setback after a 2-0 loss to France, Ukraine was eliminated.

Some in the country will view the tournament as a failure after the co-hosts were unable to reach the next round. But keep in mind, this is a nation that has only been playing the sport under the Ukrainian flag for 20 years now.

April 29, 1992 was the first time the former Soviet nation took the field as Ukraine. And while countries like Brazil and Italy have the kind of soccer history that fills libraries, Ukraine can just about fit its history on a two- sided pamphlet.

And just about all of that history centers around one player, Shevchenko.

He made his name on the club level with AC Milan by establishing himself as a prolific scorer and helping lead the team to the Champions League title and Coppa Italia in 2003, while the Scudetto followed the next season.

Shevchenko captured the Ballon d' Or in 2004, given annually to the best player in Europe, while he finished third in the voting for FIFA World Player of the Year that season as well.

He was a scoring machine at a high-powered AC Milan team, and then became an overpaid disappointment at Chelsea when he joined the club in May 2006 for $47 million.

But despite all of the success he had at Milan, it was with Ukraine that he made his biggest impact.

The history of Ukraine's national team is littered with Shevchenko's records. He is both the youngest and oldest player to score a goal for the team. He has tallied 48 goals in 111 appearances, and helped to produce the most notable accomplishment for the country in its brief footballing history.

Ukraine made its debut at a major international tournament at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and Shevchenko helped the side advance all the way to the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Italy.

It was the first real footballing success for Ukraine, and after failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, the team's showing at this summer's European Championship gives them something to build on.

Shevchenko won't be around to help them take the next step, but he is already the measuring stick by which future stars in Ukraine are being measured.

Talented forward Andriy Yarmolenko has already been dubbed "the next Shevchenko," although it's hard to see him winning a place in the hearts of Ukrainian fans quite like the 35-year-old master.

Shevchenko's place on Ukraine's team for Euro 2012 wasn't always a given, but he worked hard to find a way into Oleh Blokhin's team, and rewarded the coach with his memorable two-goal game against Sweden, while taking one final victory lap in front of his nation on a big stage.

It was sort of like a former boxing champion digging down and producing one last memorable fight before fading off into the sunset.

Shevchenko had plans on extending that run into the next round, but had to start the final match against England on the bench because he was struggling with an injury.

And when he was summoned by Blokhin with 20 minutes to play and Ukraine trailing 1-0, it appeared as though the script had been written for one last glorious stand.

Maybe the most telling thing about Shevchenko's impact on Ukrainian football was that, even at 35 and well past his prime, the capacity crowd at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk still believed he was capable of pulling this one out of the fire.

Children who were too young to see the man play in his prime lit up as he charged onto the field for the last time, exhibiting ear-to-ear grins as large as the stadium itself.

Ultimately Ukraine came up short, but the fans never stopped believing once Sheva stepped onto the field.

Shevchenko will be remembered by most of the world as one of the better strikers of his era during his prime.

In Ukraine, he is a sporting hero.

Brazil has Pele, Argentina has Diego Maradona, Germany has Franz Beckenbauer and the Dutch have Johan Cruyff.

In Ukraine, the name is Shevchenko.

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