May 23 2013 Latest news:
By Stuart Watson
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
ENGLAND will have to overcome an intimidating atmosphere if they are to avoid exiting the European Championships tonight.
That’s the warning from former Ipswich Town player Sergei Baltacha, who believes that his native Ukraine are capable of getting the win which would put them through to the quarter-finals and more than likely send Roy Hodgson’s side home on an early flight.
Baltacha was born around 70 miles away from Donetsk – the venue for this evening’s match (7.45pm kick-off) – and still speaks regularly to Ukraine’s manager Oleh Blokhin, a Soviet Union international team-mate throughout the 1980s.
“I’m really looking forward to the game because I can see it going either way,” said 54-year-old Baltacha, who signed for the Blues less than a year after helping the USSR reach the European Championship final against Holland.
“The whole of Ukraine is behind their team and the atmosphere in the stadium will be incredible. If they stay in the game and still have a chance of winning towards the end then anything could happen.
“It does feel a little bit like the stage is set for Andriy Shevchenko. It didn’t work out for him in England, but he showed he still has that clever movement and deadly finish in the game against Sweden.”
The father of Ipswich-based tennis star Elena is to start work with Charlton Athletic’s academy this season following a number of years teaching at the Chelsea FC-affiliated Bacon’s College. He added: “I have been impressed with England and the way Roy Hodgson has got them playing as a team so quickly after taking over.
“People keep saying that this is the weakest England squad in a long time and that they can’t do anything at this tournament, but they still have a lot of experience and some very good young players.”
And whatever the result, Baltacha hopes that his home nation is not marred by any more reports of unsavoury crowd incidents.
“There are a lot of welcoming people in Ukraine and Poland,” he said. “Like in any country the idiot minority can spoil it for everyone else, but it’s been good to hear a few supporters saying nice things about our people.”