Four Tiny Tidbits On: Ukraine

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The World Cup is ominously close! So that you aren't caught offside (they have that in soccer, right?), we're previewing all the participants, bringing you Four Things You Don't Know About Them. If you have a tidbit, send it along to Today: Angola! And for World Cup previews that are even better than ours, check out That's On Point, who helped us with these as well.

1. Baby-Name Books Are In Short Supply There. Ukraine has not one, not two ... but six players named Andriy, and they're all in the starting lineup. Count 'em: Rusol, Nesmachny, Husin, Voronin, Vorbei and Shevchenko. The latter, of course, is one of the world's best at AC Milan, and is married to… not necessarily in that order. Shevchenko was a boxer before he switched to soccer, and as a child had to abandon his home with his family due to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

2. Who Says Ukraine Weak?. After two near-misses, Ukraine is making its first-ever appearance in the finals, and was the first team to qualify besides the host Germans. They won European Zone Group 2, finishing on top of such international soccer stalwarts as Greece, Albania and Kazakhstan. Actually, it's quite a source of national pride for the country, which became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and did not send its own team into World Cup competition until 1998.

3. We Stink. Ukrainian National Team coach Oleh Blokhin, a Communist who was once an MP in the Ukranian parliament, is not known for his cheerful attitude. Excerpts from his recent newspaper interviews: "The young players do not listen to me for some reason, they are not knocking on the door, they are not pushing into the team. If I'm being honest, I'd take only 20 people to Germany, it is hard for us to find that number. But that wouldn't be right. The squad has to include 23. The lack of serious competition in the team is a terrible thing."


4. They Park The Team Bus In Front Of The Goal. Ukraine's big strength is defense; the team allowing just seven goals in 12 qualifying games, including three in the past two games after it had already secured its World Cup berth. Goalkeeper Alexander Shovkovsky of Dynamo Kiev is one of the best in the world at his position. Andrey Rusol, though only 22, is a leader force for the defense.

(Tomorrow: Tunisia)