- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

HAMBURG, Germany — Ukraine has this wild dream of winning the World Cup. It also has something it must prove first: It’s not just a one-man team.

The man in question is Andriy Shevchenko, who is considered the most complete striker in the world and is married to a D.C.-area native.

Shevchenko, 29, was the key to Ukraine reaching the finals on its third attempt and the reason the team was considered to have an outside chance to win the title. He also was the key in a 4-0 loss to Spain in the opening game of Group H last week. One Ukrainian paper after the match dubbed Shevchenko “the world’s most expensive statue.”

Shevchenko certainly didn’t have feet of concrete yesterday, scoring a goal and setting up another in a 4-0 win over Saudi Arabia to put his team back on track. Ukraine can advance with a win over Tunisia on Friday.

Shevchenko, still a little tentative after a knee injury, saw his fine header saved off the line in the 14th minute. However, after halftime, he made sure his 6-yard header creased the netting, and he kept the Saudi defense busy all game.

He has been busy himself.

Shevchenko, voted the 2004 European player of the year, scored 19 goals for top Italian club AC Milan last season in 28 league games and nine goals in Champions League play.

In a stunning move last month, he joined cash-flush Chelsea in the English Premier League for a British transfer record of $61 million, a figure that ranked second behind the world record $71 million move of Zinedine Zidane to Real Madrid.

Shevchenko said the move from Milan, where he won everything at the club level, was not for money but for family reasons. He wants his son, Jordon, to grow up learning English. Shevchenko’s American wife is model Kristen Pazik, who attended Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School and later graduated from James Madison. They were married in a secret wedding in the District two years ago.

Pazik is friends with a partner of Chelsea’s billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich.

“My wife has nothing to do with this,” Shevchenko told Italian reporters of his move to Chelsea. “I don’t speak English, my wife does not speak Ukrainian. The only language we have in common at the moment is Italian. The only way to be able to teach our children our love that we have for them is the English language.”

No one has raised the profile of Ukrainian soccer more than Shevchenko, who was born in a small town just 90 miles from Kiev.

He moved to Milan from Dynamo Kiev for $27 million as a 22-year-old in 1999. The club never regretted it. He scored 24 goals in his first season, a performance impressive enough to earn him a holiday on the yacht of Silvio Berlusconi, the club’s owner and until recently the prime minister of Italy.

The following season he led Milan to the title. He formed a close relationship with Berlusconi, who helped his father get treatment for a heart condition and introduced Shevchenko to Pazik.

Ukraine’s rise has mirrored that of Shevchenko.

Ukraine lost in the qualifying playoffs of the two previous World Cups, but seemed to be making up for it yesterday.

Defender Andriy Rusol deflected a corner kick off his knee into the net in the fourth minute for a 1-0 lead. Serhiy Rebrov blasted a long-range shot over the Saudi goalie in the 34th minute to make the score 2-0. Shevchenko scored a goal and unselfishly set up Maksym Kalinichenko for a another into a wide-open net.

When Shevchenko left the game in the 86th minute, the crowd roared its appreciation of his performance. The maestro was back.

And Ukraine has arrived.

“I don’t believe we are here just to make up the numbers,” said coach Oleg Blokhin, a former European player of the year and until Shevchenko the most famous player to emerge from the former Soviet republics. “We are as good as the other teams.”

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