Maybe playing on the continental stage under the gaze of the international media was too intimidating for them or, taking into consideration everything Ukraine has been through in the last two-plus years, perhaps they were simply running on empty. Yet even before their opening match kicked off, the Ukrainian national football team was already a winner, having qualified for their fourth consecutive European Championship two years after Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of their neighbor.

Their amazing accomplishment should not be left unacknowledged. After completing a qualification campaign carried out entirely on the road in foreign stadiums and with support severely limited by the realities of war, a spirited Romanian side temporarily curtailed Ukraine’s progress on the pitch.


Qualifying from a difficult group and advancing to the knockout stages was a legitimate hope after their astounding run by way of two playoff games. Now they will probably have to beat both Slovakia and Belgium if the dream is to be realized.

In the Munich area there were far more Romanians than Ukrainians. A recent law enacted by the Ukrainian government barring males aged 25-60 from leaving the country in an attempt to mobilize more soldiers to battle the Russian armed forces affected potential support in Germany. It was left to a significant number of displaced Ukrainians, women and German natives of Ukrainian heritage to cheer for the blue and yellow in Munich’s Marienplatz Square.

Kyiv Should Look to the Triangle With Romania and Moldova for Its Own Future
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Kyiv Should Look to the Triangle With Romania and Moldova for Its Own Future

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Even in Bavaria’s capital city of Munich, the realities of war were with the Ukrainians. However, for a couple of hours, those fortunate enough to be present at the  Allianz Arena could experience a feeling which had all but disappeared in the time since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Although in the minority, those present made themselves heard. President of Ukraine’s Football Association, Andriy Shevchenko unveiled a temporary installation of a damaged section of seating from Kharkiv’s Sonyachny Stadium in a Munich central square as Ukrainian protest songs and impassioned speeches served as extra inspiration.


Things taken for granted by most football fans meant a great deal to the Ukrainian fans. “Slava Ukraini” was heard everywhere, banners were proudly displayed supporting their troops and political prisoners, while the forced absence of Ukrainian men unable to leave the country was bemoaned. No matter what transpired on the pitch, the sense of grabbing the exhilaration that an international tournament provides with both hands was owned by these free Ukrainians in Germany and those yearning to be free back home.

They came to enjoy a football match, but also for their voices to resonate and be heard by the world on this international stage, knowing that after the final whistle sounds, the struggles back home will continue.

The Ukrainian players appeared pumped up when singing their national anthem with each draped in an individual Ukrainian flag, standing arm in arm, united as one.

The recipients of messages from the frontline warriors defending their country from the Russian aggressors before the match, the Ukrainian players’ minds seemed to be elsewhere in the first half of play except for Mykhailo Mudryk flashing some half-chances from in close and the highly sought after Heorhiy Sudakov doing the same from deep. Romania quickly capitalized on a poor decision by Mykola Matviyenko’s to backward pass to goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, whose ultimate ill-placed clearance gifted the opponents a score in the 29th minute.


The halftime break allowed Serhiy Rebrov’s squad to regroup, and they came out a bit more aggressively. A second Romanian goal from distance effectively ended the match in the 53rd minute when a speculative shot flew under Lunin’s outstretched arms followed by a third tap-in a few minutes later being the clincher.

Ukraine did not give up and valiantly rallied, coming close to gaining one back on several occasions. An impressive Sudakov attempt was denied by an intelligent save and a Roman Yaremchuk header hit the crossbar in stoppage time, but it simply was not meant to be.

After the final whistle there was joyous celebration by the Romanian side with their players working their crowd into a raucous frenzy. Those in Ukrainian blue had a much different reaction, subdued by the harsh reality of the unexpected loss. They would return another day with a victory over Slovakia in their next scheduled match an absolute must. Defying the odds, however, is most definitely in Ukraine’s nature.

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