War-torn Ukraine dream of World Cup morale boost
Glasgow (AFP) – Ukraine’s national team are dreaming of a place at the World Cup to bring some relief to a war-torn nation as they face Scotland in a playoff semi-final on Wednesday.
Oleksandr Petrakov’s side have 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 fulfil the fixture.
Players based in their homeland have since been allowed to leave the country and train together in Slovenia.
In recent weeks they have been joined by Ukrainian football’s star names 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 have 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.”
Zinchenko broke down in tears at his side’s pre-match press conference.
Petrakov explained 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, 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 in delaying the game by three months.
A sell-out crowd at Hampden will be given the lyrics to the Ukrainian national anthem to join in with their visitors before kick-off.
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 have 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 for 23 years.
“We said we didn’t want to be one-tournament wonders. I’m convinced that this group of players won’t be, whether it’s this tournament 2022 in Qatar or 2024 (Euro) in Germany or 2026 (World Cup) in America,” added Clarke.
“This team, this squad of players, will go to another tournament.”