Ukraine’s national team is dreaming of a place at the Ukraine World Cup to bring some relief to a wartorn nation as they face Scotland in a playoff semifinal on Wednesday.
Oleksandr Petrakov‘s side has not played a competitive match since Russia’s invasion in February. Their trip to Scotland was postponed in March to give Ukraine the chance to fulfill the fixture.
Players based in their homeland have since been allowed to leave the country and train together in Slovenia.
Ukraine world cup
In recent weeks, they have been joined by Ukrainian football stars who ply their trade in Europe’s top leagues. “Every Ukrainian wants one thing to stop this war,” said Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko on Tuesday. “The Ukrainian team also has their own dream. They want to go to the World Cup.” They want to give these incredible emotions to Ukrainians because “Ukrainians deserve this at this time.”
At his side’s pre-match press conference, Zinchenko broke down in tears. Petrakov explained that he has a difficult balancing act of keeping his players’ emotions in check with the objective of getting to Qatar later this year.
The winners of Wednesday’s clash will face Wales on Sunday for a place alongside England, the USA, and Iran in World Cup Group B. “It is clearly difficult to motivate the team for a game when all the players are thinking about their family back in Ukraine,” said Petrakov.
“Clearly we use all sorts of methods. We even have jokes to try and keep the mood light, but every player understands how huge the task is for tomorrow’s game.” Zinchenko thanked the Scottish team for their gesture of delaying the game by three months.
A sellout crowd at Hampden will be given the lyrics to the Ukrainian national anthem to join in with their visitors before kickoff. However, Scotland boss Steve Clarke said that sentimentality will be set aside once the game begins.
“Nothing but good thoughts and wishes for them, except during the game, because obviously, they want to go to Qatar and represent their country,” said Clarke.
“But I am desperate to go to Qatar with my country.”
Scotland has not qualified for a World Cup since 1998. But Clarke has revived his nation’s fortunes in recent years. Scotland’s appearance at Euro 2020 was their first at any major tournament in 23 years.
“We said we didn’t want to be one of those tournament wonders.” “I’m confident that there are no players in this group in any of the tournaments in Qatar 2022, Germany 2024 (Euro), and the USA 2026 (World Cup),” Clark added. “This team, this player’s team will be in another tournament.”