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Shevchenko the history man

Tunisia 0 - 1 Ukraine

Picture the Olympiastadion packed to the rafters as Jesse Owens wins four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics.

Owens is one of the iconic figures in sporting history, performing his feats with Adolf Hitler watching in the arena the dictator turned into an amphitheatre of cavernous proportions.

Seventy years on and the venue retains its splendour. In an era of identikit stadiums, mass-produced to both modernise and capitalise, it was refreshing to visit a ground with a true historic value.

That this truly stunning stadium could have been bulldozed or left to decay is unthinkable, but both were an option before it became the centerpiece of Germany's World Cup bid.

Many feared the legacy of those Olympic Games would haunt any attempt to usher in a new era but it has been possible to both move forward and encapsulate the significance of the stadium. It will be fitting home for the World Cup final on June 9.

But the spawling Olympischer Platz is not just a football-cum-athletics stadium. The whole site is immense. For instance, next door to the ground is Maifield, best described as a vast lawn. Again, it was designed by Hitler's government; for gymnastics displays. Such was the arena's size when still complete - much still remains - it could hold 250,000 people.

Today it was the media jumping through hoops and the sponsors doing the cartwheels as the whole area - all 28 acres - was taken over by a village of tents.

Restored brilliantly, it begs the question why those at the English FA were so ready to bring in the demolition teams at Wembley. Perhaps a renovation of such outstanding quality would have been preferable to having an unfinished stadium six years on and counting.

The projects on Wembley and the Olympiastadion both began in 2000. While Germany has a stadium to be proud of, England still has a building site.

Sadly, Friday's game did not manage to reach such elevated status, even if it had been long billed as a group decider.

For these two sides it was a tale of two strikers. While Ukraine have crucially been able to call on former European Footballer of the Year Andriy Shevchenko, Tunisia's hopes were essentially lost when their own talisman, Francileudo Santos, was injured while playing for Sochaux.

Santos may not have the class to challenge for such a lofty personal honours, but he is as important to the north Africans as Sheva is to the former Soviet state.

He saw just ten minutes of action in the World Cup, coming on as Tunisia prepared to bow out today. And in that time Tunisia perhaps looked their most dangerous. Within seconds he had linked up with Hatem Trabelsi and the Ajax right-back almost headed Tunisia level.

By that stage Trabelsi was shattered, a tireless performer who manages to get up and down the pitch from right-back throughout the 90 minutes as though he is on a bungee rope.

Coach Roger Lemerre believed his side had a realistic chance of qualifying for the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time. But without Santos that hope must have been far slimmer.

That failure to beat Saudi Arabia in their opening group match was also crucial. One of those sides needed to win that match to create momentum. That Tunisia only claimed a point through a late equalizer set the tone for a disappointing World Cup.

Shevchenko, meanwhile, overcame the knee injury he picked up on Serie A duty in May to lead his country into their first finals.

Few could have predicted such a turnaround in fortunes after that horror debut against Spain, when they were thrashed 4-0. Now Sheva will believe he can fire Ukraine at least into the quarter-finals.

As always, he led the line superbly. And it was the Chelsea striker who won the penalty, in somewhat dubious circumstances, when he went down under a challenge from Radhi Jaidi. He put away the spot kick with aplomb.

The game had already finished as a spectacle by then. Tunisia had been reduced to ten men on the stroke of half-time when Zied Jaziri picked up a second yellow card. Credit has to go the referee Carlos Amarillla who went back to take action after allowing a Ukraine attack to continue. Graeme Poll must have looked on with envy.

Jaziri had been playing as Tunisia's lone striker and with him chances of progressing seemed to disappear. With the extra man, Ukraine were able to enjoy possession football, forcing Tunisia to chase before they went in for the kill via the penalty spot.

They could have had added to their goal tally towards the end of the match, with Andriy Voronin so close to a reward for his lively performance.

Ukraine are undoubtedly the most improved side of the tournament. After being soul-destroyingly outclassed by Spain they have scored six goals without reply. They will be no pushovers in the knockout rounds as their confidence soars.

Shevchenko was substituted at the end to rapturous applause from the yellow and blue inside the Olympiastadion. It's taken so long for one of the true greats to finally get his chance on world stage and you can't help but think he's not quite ready to head for the King's Road just yet.


UKRAINE VERDICT: Improving with every game and with Shevchenko's fitness and sharpness improving all the time they may have much more to say in this tournament yet.

TUNISIA VERDICT: A lightweight forward line without class is not going to get you out of the group stage of the World Cup finals. Tunisia will be back, and must hope their star striker is fit next time.

BERLIN VERDICT: An outstanding structure which oozes history. A pleasure to have visited the Olympiastadion and Berlin must take all the credit for creating such an amazing venue. Step back in time in 2006.

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