Ukraine desperate to avoid repeat performance
BERLIN: Saudi Arabia knows if it performs like it did against Tunisia, it has a change to advance at the World Cup. If Ukraine plays anything like it did against Spain, the Eastern Europeans will be booking tickets home early.
Ukraine and Saudi Arabia meet for the first time in Group H action at Hamburg on Monday in a match that both teams must win if they hope to advance.
``We still have a chance so we'll play each of our games like it's the last one,'' Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko said.
``The match against Saudi Arabia is our last chance and we are preparing for that game with that in mind.
Not a good thing
``The defeat to Spain was not a good thing, but we have two more matches. We knew Spain was the toughest team in the group. But the most important match lies ahead.''
Despite being ranked 40 spots below Spain, Ukraine still had been expected to provide strong resistance, especially when Shevchenko was declared recovered from a knee injury.
Instead, Ukraine left the playing field humbled 4-0, unable to come up with any concrete reasons for the drubbing but complaining bitterly about the searing heat, which they felt favoured the Spaniards.
``Losing against Spain 4-0 does not mean Ukraine is an easy team,'' Saudi veteran Sami al-Jaber warned. ``We respect the side and we know the players will be motivated to win against us. We will not underestimate them but we need to win this match.''
Saudi Arabia, another team which prefers sultry temperatures, is no longer the pushover it was four years ago when it was demolished 8-0 by Germany in the first round.
In its last two World Cup appearances, Saudi Arabia played a total of four matches against European teams without scoring a single goal.
But on Wednesday, the Saudis tallied twice and took a point from its 2-2 draw with Tunisia.
Still, if they were thrilled with the point, the Saudis know victory could have been theirs. After trailing at halftime, Saudi Arabia rallied to score twice and take a 2-1 lead. But a late equaliser in injury time left the Saudis kicking themselves.
Saudi Arabia plans to take this lesson into its clash with Ukraine.
Crucial 15 minutes
``It's a very important match for us and we have to do everything we can to win it. The first 15 minutes will be crucial,'' Saudi Arabia coach Marcos Paqueta said.
Shevchenko was impressed after watching a videotape of the Saudi team.
``This is a team that hasn't really played in any serious competitions, but they gave me a very good impression,'' he said. ``We need to be very careful and make the most of this second chance.''
Ukraine is hoping midfielders Oleg Gussev and Andriy Vorobey will be fit to play. Gussev injured his knee and Vorobey his shoulder against Spain.
Ukraine already is without defender Vladyslav Vashchuk, who received a red card in Wednesday's 4-0 loss to Spain and will have to complete a one-game suspension.
Saudi Arabia has no major injuries.
Spain leads the group with three points. Tunisia and Saudi Arabia each have one while Ukraine has none. AP