The Ukrainian national football team takes on its Scottish counterpart on Wednesday, June 1, at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland. The game kicks off at 21.45 Kyiv time. The prize for the winner is a big one, the chance to play at the World Cup Finals in Qatar with the 31 other countries that will be also there.
But first Ukraine must beat Scotland and then overcome Wales on June 5 in Cardiff to book their spot in Qatar.
The World Cup finals are scheduled to take place from November 21 to December 18, 2022. This will be the first World Cup ever to be held in the Arab world. Famous footballing nations that have already qualified include Brazil, Uruguay, France, England, Spain and Argentina.
The 2021-22 club football season finished prematurely due to Russia’s war. Clubs went on their traditional winter break and should have returned to play in the spring. Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv headed the Ukrainian Premier League but the season was eventually abandoned.
So, Ukraine’s national team has been preparing for the game in Slovenia, as stadiums and other sports facilities have been at risk of Russian bombing.
Ukraine struggled to find warm-up partners in a rigid international calendar and have played only two friendly games ahead of the game with Scotland.
However, both Shakhtar and Dynamo, whose players make up the heart of the national team, recently played against various teams in a series of friendly soccer matches in Europe.
Some players, like S.L. Benfica forward Roman Yaremchuk and Atalanta midfielder Ruslan Malinovsky, play in European leagues, so they are match fit.
Some players seem made for international football, and West Ham winger Andriy Yarmolenko is one of them. The 32-year-old has scored 44 times for his country in 106 games.
Tomorrow’s match is significant because Ukraine has only qualified for the World Cup once since it became independent, and that was in 2006 when it reached the last eight and lost to eventual winners Italy.
The venue, Hampden Park, is a good one for Ukraine, as it was here that it beat Sweden 2-1 in June 2021 in the delayed Euro-20 European championships. Team captain Oleksandr Zinchenko scored a goal that night, and says “there’s no need to talk about motivation”.
The Manchester City defender is key to Ukraine’s hopes. He plays as a creative midfielder for the team and realises that getting to Qatar would be a great morale booster for both Ukrainian football and the nation. It will be the national team’s first competitive match since the invasion.
“Ukraine is still alive,” the 25-year-old told local media on May 29. “Ukraine is going to fight until the end. This is our mentality. We never give up.
“I can promise all the Ukrainian people that every one of us is going to give everything to win the game and to make them proud of us and just maybe for a few seconds we would like to give them this smile.
“The first period when it just started, it was so complicated to focus on football,” explained Zinchenko.
In the meantime, UEFA, the European football governing agency, is looking at ways of organizing the coming 2022/23 season for Ukrainian club sides and venues for matches.
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