World Soccer: How do you compare preparations for Euro 2012 with those before the World Cup in 2006?
Oleg Blokhin: I have to assume my players are prepared better than in 2006. I think the general quality of the players is better. Of course we have some problematic positions, particularly in the centre of defence, but I have to rely on those available. I doubt that anyone unexpected will appear on the horizon.
What’s special about your team in football terms?
We have quite a number of quick players, especially on the flanks, where both Dynamo Kiev wingers, Oleg Husiev and Andriy Yarmolenko, can create dangerous opportunities. They are very well equipped and prepared for the sort of attacking movements that may give us a cutting edge.
What is the side’s strength?
We are a very young side with great motivation. Most of the players have not won anything yet, so they would like to use such a great chance to show what they can do.
What has been your biggest problem so far?
Unfortunately the reality of current Ukrainian football is that foreigners occupy key roles at the top clubs. That is not only making my job very difficult but it’s also slowing down the development of promising young talent. Moreover, our top four clubs [Dynamo Kiev, Shakhtar, Metalist and Dnipro] play different styles of football. I need to readjust their players for the needs of the national team and make them into a solid, unified team.
What is your selection policy?
It’s easy. A candidate for the national side must be a first-choice player at his club. It’s obligatory. For example, I have to travel to Moscow to clear up the situation with Andriy Voronin, who has suddenly found himself on the bench at Dynamo Moscow. I’m not going to include players just because they have had glory in the past. All of my footballers must show their potential in training and confirm it on the pitch.
How far away are you from finalising the squad?
I’m ready with 80 per cent of my list but the start of the tournament is getting ever closer. I drove past the giant clock on Kreschatik Street [the central avenue in Kiev] and saw the numbers counting down to Euro 2012 and realised we have to do something special to withstand the great challenges we will face.
Who are your favourites to win the tournament?
Everyone has to think they have a chance. I believe France will surprise people. They have done a lot of work after their big failure at the 2010 World Cup. The same can be applied to Italy. To the list of favourites I can easily add Germany and Portugal.
What about your group rivals?
I’ve mentioned France, but England are definitely a strong side, composed of top-quality players from the Premier League. Sweden are a physically well-prepared team who will not be easy opponents in a tough group.
The team was shocked by the terrible injury to goalkeeper Andriy Dikan…
Yes. Really, all of us were so upset and we hope he recovers as soon as possible. At least we have experienced keepers in Oleksandr Shovkovskyi and Andriy Pyatov.
How can Euro 2012 change football in the country?
First of all we have beautiful stadiums. They are simply perfect for both the players and the spectators. I think everything that the country has built for the purposes of Euro 2012, especially in football terms, will speed up the progress of Ukrainian football.
What is your dream for Euro 2012?
I always try to win. I think it is not good when someone in sport, and in football in particular, does not strive for perfection. I require the same from my players. Our specific task is to qualify from the group. This is our obligation. Let’s reach this target first and then we shall see. Our approach to the biggest tournament on our soil is to move on a step-by-step basis.
Interview by Oleg Zadernovsky