Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Neil and I walk two kilometers to the Donbass Arena. The atmosphere in the city is laid back, friendly and positive. The BBC Panorama team should get theirs arses down here and make a documentary about the complete lack of xenophobia from the Ukrainians. There is absolutely no way that a tournament held in England with this mixture of teams and fans could pass with as little trouble as there has been in Ukraine.
Feeling absolutely exhausted from our lack of sleep and excesses of the past few days we set up base for a couple of hours in the five-star Shaktar Plaza hotel which is located a couple hundred yards away from the Donbass Arena. It costs less for a coffee here than it did at a couple of the one-star restaurants adjacent to the train station. Once we have got ourselves together I dump our bags in the media centre inside of the stadium and we go for a stroll around the local environs. There are parks, museums, restaurants and cafes all around the extensive grounds of the stadium, as well as panoramic views of the city’s slag heaps, man-made river and super-rich new buildings. Donetsk is a surreal place to say the least.
We grab a couple of Lviv 1715 from a park café and take in the amazing vibe being created by the Ukrainians ahead of this match. I have friends who have given up on UEFA and FIFA tournaments because of the ‘poncy, corporate, sausage fest’ nature of it all in recent years. This is completely unlike any tournament I have been to before. Wish you were here lads.
England have around 4,000 in the stadium. I have got goosebumps as 50,000 ukrainians boom out their national anthem. The Donbass Arena is some stadium. Talk about state of the art and no expense spared. I believe it cost around half a billion euros to build and must rate as one of the best stadiums in the world.
I would dearly like both England and Ukraine to qualify from this group. I hate the fact that for us to qualify we will almost certainly knock out our friendly hosts.
It is a workmanlike performance from England who once again look solid as rock through the middle of the side and very weak down the flanks. I could see this ending 0-0 but England get some fortune and Rooney heads us in front from two yards out. When the Ukrainians ‘score’ but the officials fail to spot it has gone over the line, you know England have suddenly discovered a touch of fortune that we have been missing in the past few tournaments. Almost simultaneously I spot Ibrahimovic put Sweden ahead with a stunning volley on the media monitors and England are suddenly top of the group.
In truth the Ukrainians are lacking that extra little bit of quality to unlock England, while Gerrard and Parker are playing as excellent foils for one another in central midfield. With Sweden going 2-0 up against France a late Ukrainian goal might see both England and Ukraine through…what a party that would be! Alas though, England survive to win 1-0 and the travelling support goes bonkers with a passionate rendition of ‘Vindaloo’. Despite their exit, there is absolutely no retribution from the Ukrainians – not a single punch, middle finger or abusive word. I feel embarrassed by all the pre-tournament bullshit about the Ukrainians from the western European press.
Post-match, Neil and I meet Sergei but it turns out that the 18-seater minibus to Dnipropetrovsk is completely full. Sergei pleads with the bus driver to allow us to sit on the floor but he is too worried about the police stopping him as he pulls out of the city and being punished with a hefty fine. As a result, we now have no transport out of Donetsk and no bed for the night. It is 1am.