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Ukrainian Soccer Great 'Sheva' Hangs It Up

Andriy Shevchenko waves before the start of his team's Euro 2012 soccer match against England at Donbass Arena in Donetsk on June 19.
Andriy Shevchenko waves before the start of his team's Euro 2012 soccer match against England at Donbass Arena in Donetsk on June 19.
Fans of international soccer are saying farewell today to hard-charging striker Andriy Shevchenko, who announced his retirement from international competition after Ukraine's elimination from the Euro 2012 championships.

It's fitting that the 35-year-old Shevchenko should bow out as his country revels in the limelight as co-host of the Euro championships.

"Sheva," after all, put his country on the football map -- its first superstar kitted out in the blue and gold of an independent Ukraine. Reuters says:

Shevchenko, the finest player Ukraine has produced since independence from the Soviet Union, told reporters he intends to says his farewell in a friendly game before standing down from national team duty.

"It was my last official game for Ukraine. A bit later on I will arrange a farewell game to say goodbye to supporters.

"What are my plans now? I simply want to go home and put my arms around my kids and kiss my wife," he said.

He certainly went far for a guy who, perhaps apocryphally, was said as a 9-year-old to have failed a tryout for a sports school in the capital because he couldn't dribble. After winning multiple championships with Dynamo Kyiv, Shevchenko went on to win top European honors playing for AC Milan and Chelsea before returning to Dynamo to play out his career.

Beginning in 1996, he scored a total of 48 goals en route to 111 caps for Ukraine, making him the country's all-time top scorer.

Shevchenko looked comfortable shooting left- or right-footed, or heading the ball into the net, but some of his most spectacular goals show that he did a lot of his most eye-popping work from distance.

My own favorite is his 2001 strike for AC Milan against Juventus. Shevchenko bolted out of the pack near midfield and dazzled a clutch of defenders before pulling up well outside the right-hand corner of the penalty box on the right-hand side and tucking a 30-meter-plus shot neatly into the upper-left corner of the goal.

Here's a compilation of top Shevchenko goals.

Here's another that shows some nifty footwork if you jump right to the goal scoring around two minutes in:

One of the most comprehensive fan tributes out there is this one to "King" Sheva, from a fresh-faced 18-year-old through multiple stints with AC Milan and Chelsea and some of those 111 games for Ukraine:

The announcer in this clip of Shevchenko's penultimate game for Ukraine pretty much sums up the regard for him in the moments after the first of Shevchenko's two headers that propelled Ukraine to a 2-1 win over Sweden in front of home fans last week in Kyiv: "Shevchenko! What a moment. National treasure. Icon. Goal-scorer."

-- Andy Heil

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