Andriy Shevchenko`s reputation as the "gold reserve of Ukrainian football" was underlined once more as his added-time penalty got his side`s 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign off to a winning start, according to UEFA.
In a group containing Croatia and England, Ukraine knew that dropped points at home to Belarus in Lvov would have been costly as they attempt to match their qualification feat of 2006. Howeverm, that was how it looked the game would turn out until the 32-year-old Shevchenko stepped up four minutes into added time to convert the spot-kick that earned a 1-0 win. It was a moment of sheer joy not just for him, but for the fans who had chanted `Sheva, Sheva` from midway through the second half in the hope that the AC Milan forward would be brought off the bench. Sure enough he was sent on with 16 minutes left and by full-time his 38th goal in 83 international matches did much to win over doubters wondering if his best days are behind him.
"Shevchenko remains a crucial player for the national team," said his former team-mate Yuriy Kalitvintsev, while ex-Ukraine coach József Szabó added: "He is the gold reserve of Ukrainian football. The team needs him even in when his completely out of sorts.`` The man himself was more modest. "`I do not think I saved the game," said Shevchenko, who returned to Milan from Chelsea FC this summer. "Anyone else could have been in my place. What is important for us is that the team fought until the end, believed in ourselves and created chances."
Ukraine coach Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko took the decision not to start with Shevchenko, who has only 45 goalless minutes as a Milan substitute to his name this season, but praised the forward for what he did when he was brought on. "`It is very difficult to come into such game." said Mykhaylychenko. "Yes, Shevchenko is not match-fit to the level we expect of him, but he still made a useful contribution. He was confident in himself and took responsibility in the decisive moment as a true leader. We did not decide on a penalty taker before the match and everything depended on the confidence of whichever player stepped up. When Sheva approached the spot I felt calm. He rescued the team with his composure."
Shevchenko has further chances to prove himself when Ukraine visit Kazakhstan on Wednesday and next week when Milan open their UEFA Cup campaign against FC Zürich. Szabó, who gave Shevchenko his senior debut at FC Dynamo Kyiv in October 1994 and coached him in three Ukraine qualifying campaigns, is sure the striker "will score a point against the sceptics who covered him with dirt". Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti concurred: "I can tell by the fire in his eyes his hunger to play. You will see this season Sheva will be as useful for us as before."