Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
Switzerland's spot kicks anything but spot on
* Shots on goal: Ukraine 2, Switzerland 6 * Fouls: Ukraine 20, Switzerland 24 * Offsides: Ukraine 1, Switzerland 0 * Yellow cards: Ukraine 0, Switzerland 1 * Ball possession: Ukraine 45%, Switzerland 55%
Cologne: Ukraine was already in uncharted territory but it will wake up today in a dream world. The debutant squeezed into a quarterfinal against Italy after a contest which saved its drama, or what there was of it, for the first penalty shoot-out of this World Cup. Switzerland departed Germany as the first side ever not to have conceded a goal in the finals, though that merely added to its profound and bitter sense of disbelief.
Its deficiencies were clear and elsewhere. Even the spot kicks at the end lacked quality, though the Ukrainians, giddy in delight, will hardly care. Their goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy saved a feeble shot from Marco Streller, watched Tranquillo Barnetta drive against the crossbar, then flopped on to Ricardo Cabanas's scuffed attempt. It hardly mattered that Andriy Shevchenko had seen his side's first penalty saved.
If the former Milan striker suffered any fluttering apprehension that this might have been a repeat of the personal nightmare he endured in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, it quickly evaporated amid Swiss inadequacy.
The tedium of much of this occasion should not detract from Ukraine's achievement. After watching his side humiliated in its first-ever match in the finals, few would have believed it possible that Oleg Blokhin could recover the defensive sureness that had marked the qualifying campaign. Yet that 4-0 aberration against Spain seems an age away now.
"I don't think anybody really had confidence in us," said Blokhin, who had been heavily criticised back home even after the narrow 1-0 victory over Tunisia in the final group match, a result which thrust the team on to this stage. "Most people had written us off," he pointed out.
"Some thought we'd played like beginners, particularly against Tunisia, but we showed out there that we can play good, high-quality football. But a penalty shoot-out is like Russian roulette.
"We fought so hard and we've come so far in this tournament, this is almost like a dream. We played result-oriented football out there and it worked," Blokhin added. Italy is next up in Hamburg on Friday night. Shevchenko said: "It's very special for me after playing and living for so many years in Milan. I have many friends in Italy and Italian football after playing all those years.
They will certainly be favourites. They have really great players but, when you play with your heart, you can sometimes compensate for other qualities."
That is precisely what they did here and it was to be admired, even if it was occasionally exasperating to watch. Ukraine struck the crossbar midway through the first half, Shevchenko wrestling his way past Johan Djourou to nod Maksim Kalinichenko's free-kick down and watch the loose ball cannon up and on to the woodwork.
It also offered more of a threat after the interval, the slippery Andriy Voronin guiding a header wide and occasionally exposing a Swiss rearguard that had lost the crocked Philippe Senderos after the group stage and was stripped of Djourou, his young Arsenal teammate and replacement, with a groin strain 11 minutes before half-time.
Yet the reshuffled back line still proved adequate to negate Shevchenko's occasional bursts, one shot fizzing wide, with Pascal Zuberbuehler motionless, offering a glimpse of what he can offer. The closest Ukraine came to prising its opponent open was when Andriy Gusin flicked Kalinichenko's corner marginally wide. Yet the Swiss could never capitalise on their fourth consecutive clean sheet, spanning six-and-half hours.
Not cashing in
Alexander Frei thumped a 25-yard free-kick against the woodwork in the first half, but their other half-chances were reserved for extra-time when Shovkovskiy saved from Johann Vogel and Andriy Gusin closed down Marco Streller. Swiss composure drained completely in the shoot-out.
"It was nerves, a bad case of nerves," offered the Swiss coach Kobi Kuhn. "We practised earlier in the day and everybody shot into the corner of the net and our goalkeepers didn't stand a chance. But the nerves got to my players out there.
"There's an emptiness now. We wanted to play positive football here. We wanted to offer attractive football with our young players, and I think we managed to do that until now. I'm not afraid of what will come in two years' time because we will be ready for it."
His side should be stronger for this experience when it co-hosts Euro 2008 with Austria, though to miss out on a first quarterfinal in 52 years, as Oleg Gusev slid home the Ukrainians' fourth penalty, was agonising.