“Show that Ukraine is standing” … In Scotland, the selection will play for a whole people

Hamden Park. Where the Ukrainian team wrote its history by qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Euro. It was June 29, 2021, at the expense of Sweden, crucified by Artem Dovbyk in extra time. Zbirna return to Glasgow and its stadium this Wednesday to challenge Scotland. In a very different context from last summer.

This semi-final of the play-offs for the World Cup in Qatar should have been played in March. But the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army forced a report. 98 days after the start of the offensive, the dead number in the tens of thousands and more than six million people have fled the country according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is against this dramatic backdrop that Oleksandr Zinchenko and his team-mates step forward for a crucial encounter against Scotland.

Slovenia, land of welcome

Zbirna’s last official match dates back to November 16: a victory in Bosnia and Herzegovina (0-2) on the last day of qualifying for the World Cup. She finished second in Group D, behind the Blues, held in check twice by the same score (1-1). The March international window has logically been skipped. Then came the time to get organized and think about the aftermath.

Coach Oleksandr Petrakov gathered his troops on May 1 in Slovenia, in Brdo, to start a preparation stage with around twenty players, all from Ukrainian clubs and therefore deprived of competition since mid-December, when the championship was entering its winter truce. To prepare as well as possible while raising funds for the population, they played friendly matches against the Germans of Borussia Mönchengladbach, the Italians of Empoli then the Croats of Rijeka, with a record of two wins and a draw.

A message of support for Andriy Yarmolenko during a match for his club West Ham against Wolverhampton on February 27, 2022. – Jed Leicester / Shutterstock / Sipa

They were hoping to play another, but had to change their tune. An agreement had however been reached for an opposition with the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 26. The African selection nevertheless “refused at the last minute for reasons known only to them”, commented Petrakov, specifying: “There was an offer from Lithuania to play a match at home, but on an artificial field, which which could have generalized us. The Malta team was also ready to play, but on May 27 or 28, which [était] too late for us. There were options, but for some reason they didn’t work for us. »

Internal opposition to imitate Scotland

The coach therefore made do with the means at hand, dividing his group in two and organizing a match at the training center of the Slovenian federation. A 90-minute opposition, methodically prepared, one of the two teams being instructed to play in the most “Scottish” way possible. 22 players took part. “I liked the way they played, welcomed Petrakov. We modeled Scotland’s tactics. A team played in 3-5-2 or 3-4-3, also working particularly on kicks. The match ended in a draw, I liked it. »

The lights are green, as much as possible. The group has also been gradually expanded by the evolution of players outside the Ukrainian championship, like Eduard Sobol (Club Bruges) or Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City).

“Much more than just a game”

If successful on Wednesday, Ukraine will offer themselves a final against Wales on Sunday in Cardiff. And can then join England, Iran and the United States in Group B of the World Cup. It would be his second participation in the World Cup, after that of 2006. And, above all, a huge victory for an entire nation. “It’s much more than just a match, it’s an event that the whole country will follow by all possible means, such as radio or the Internet”, executive Andrew Todos.

This 26-year-old freelance journalist, born in London with Ukrainian roots, was established in 2019 Zorya Londonsk website, which covers football news from its home country in English. “This game is a sign of power,” he continues. This shows that Ukraine is standing, that it still exists. A demonstration of resilience.

Olexandr Petrakov, Ukraine coach.
Olexandr Petrakov, Ukraine coach. – Darko Bandic / AP / Sipa

Not easy, however, to focus on a ball game when the fighting continues to rage, especially around Severodonetsk, in the Lugansk region. “We have to evacuate all foreign thoughts, but we see the information, we call our family and friends, we are aware of the situation, slips Andriy Pyatov, emblematic doorman of Shakhtar. Every day is different. Sometimes it’s normal, sometimes you’re worried, because rockets fly all the time and pose a threat, including to children. I hope everything will be fine and that we will be in good shape for the match. »

Petrakov himself wanted to join home defense at the start of the invasion, but was turned away. “It would be bad if I fled from the city where I was born, told the sexagenarian to the American weekly Time. But they said, “You’re too old and you don’t have any military skills. Instead, you better take us to the World Cup.” »

Messages from soldiers

Another war effort, also necessary. “They are ambassadors of Ukraine on the ground, they carry the nation on their shoulders, engage Andrew Todos. It will be difficult, Scotland are very well prepared but the Ukrainian team is motivated. Soldiers sent messages saying “we are fighting on the front line, don’t worry, focus on the game”. Ukraine has never been so united. »

West Ham striker Andriy Yarmolenko sums up the general mood: “You want to give people a bit of joy, so that adds strength. Of course, the guys saw the call from our military. I cannot guarantee that we will go to the World Cup, but I promise that we will give everything for it. »

According to Andrew Todos, some 3,000 Ukrainians will attend the meeting at Hampden Park (52,000 seats): refugees who received free tickets, as well as members of the diaspora, some of whom came from the United States and Canada. But this Wednesday, Zinchenko and his teammates will play for more than 40 million people. “The Ukraine team wants incredible emotions to give to the Ukrainians because they are transmitting it at the moment,” said the City defender on Tuesday evening at a press conference, before bursting into tears.

Leave a Comment