During his playing career you could rely on Andriy Shevchenko having one of four facial expressions.
1) A steely resolve, a real look of focus and effortless cool.
2) A reserved smile, a show of amusement or satisfaction but without gaudiness.
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3) Mild terror or frustration, as if his dog had destroyed his second favourite chair, or there was a huge spider on said chair.
4) The customary show of emotion having scored or lost a match, the bare minimum of what we expect of a footballer.
It’s extremely encouraging to see that the former Ballon d’Or winner has maintained that gamut of emotions, and even found time to add in a fifth.

Ukraine's coach Andrey Shevchenko reacts during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group C football match between Ukraine and North Macedonia at the National Arena in Bucharest on June 17, 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

That emotion is a difficult one to define. It’s simultaneously joy and sorrow, it’s both fear and excitement, it’s exhilaration and exhaustion. It’s an emotion that belongs nearly exclusively to people who watch sports, and the ones who coach them.
It’s certainly an emotion that rings true with this Ukrainian side. If this is how we feel watching it you can only imagine what Shevchenko goes through watching it.
Coming into the tournament, Ukraine were firmly in the “dark horse category” along with the likes of Turkey, Denmark and Sweden amongst others. The work that Shevchenko has done with his country’s national team since returning to football from politics has been noted across the globe. That’s partly down to the fact that Ukraine have had a terrible record this millennium. Euro 2020 is just the fourth major tournament out of a possible 11 they’ve reached since the turn of the century, and one of them they qualified as joint-hosts.
You suspect we are going to be seeing a lot of Ukraine in the next decade or so. Their two matches so far have produced eight goals and plenty of entertainment and they’re a good bet to make the next round following their 2-1 win over North Macedonia on Thursday. A traditional, and perhaps lazy, assessment of Eastern Europe teams is that they are slow and compact, to make up for the technical deficiency compared to their Western rivals, none of that is true for this Ukraine team.

Ukraine's forward Andriy Yarmolenko celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group C football match between Ukraine and North Macedonia at the National Arena in Bucharest on June 17, 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

As a unit they are quick and full of technicians, they clearly have a mandate of being able to play from Shevchenko, he’s prepared for them to take risks. The crisp passing for the second goal was a wonderful thing to watch and there was plenty of that during the opener against the Netherlands.
For some that first match was a touch disappointing, particularly the manner of the defeat. Having started so slowly, then being ignited by Andriy Yarmolenko’s brilliant strike, it was a shame to concede so late but consider this. Today’s victory is Ukraine’s first at a major tournament for over eight years, a lot of these players carry scars whilst some watched from afar, growing accustomed to the country’s consistent failure on the biggest stage barring the golden run in 2006.
Perhaps it took a little time for them to realise they belonged on this stage, although a 1-1 draw in France recently should have told them that already. This is just the first step on a long journey for Shevchenko, it’s not the end game.
Individually there is talent across the pitch. Ruslan Malinovskiy can lay claim to possibly being one of the purest strikers of the ball in the tournament whilst the Oleksandr Zinchenko we see for Ukraine is a very different one we see for Manchester City.

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - JUNE 17: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Oleksandr Zinchenko of Ukraine battle for the ball during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group C match between Ukraine and North Macedonia at National Arena on June 17, 2021 in Bucharest, Romania.

Image credit: Getty Images

In the sticks is a player from Shevchenko’s old stomping ground Dynamo Kyiv, Heorhiy Bushchan, who made a blinding save from Enis Bardhi just before he was finally beaten, although he did initially save Ezgjan Alioski’s penalty.
But what really gives cause for optimism is the incredible wealth of young talent that is coming through. Shevchenko’s squad features three teenagers, more than any other squad at this tournament. One of them, Illya Zabarnyi, is already a first-team starter in the heart of the defence. The others are a Shakhtar Donetsk duo, Anatoliy Trubin and Heorhiy Suadkov, who should be starters by the time we get to Euro 2024, if not sooner. On top of that trio there are a further 11 within the squad who are aged 25 or younger.

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - JUNE 17: Illia Zabarnyi of Ukraine battles for possession with Arijan Ademi of North Macedonia during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group C match between Ukraine and North Macedonia at National Arena on June 17, 2021 in Bucharest, R

Image credit: Getty Images

Shevchenko is working wonders in a tough situation and there will be bumps along the road, the relegation from League B in the recent Nations League highlights that. However, for the first time since perhaps he was a player it feels as if there a number of players who can be legitimate stars in Europe’s big five leagues. There is already a few in Zinchenko, Malinovskiy and Yarmolenko and there are rumours that Shevchenko’s old club Chelsea are going to move for Zabarnyi after the tournament.
Croatia’s incredible run in 2018 is the perfect example of what can be achieved with a good combination of star quality and a sound tactical framework. As of yet Ukraine does not have any player at the level of someone like Luka Modric, but the seeds are in place and Shevchenko is the perfect person to cultivate them and help them grow into something strong.
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