Scotland v Ukraine: What do the World Cup play-offs mean for Ukrainians? | Soccer News

Scotland v Ukraine: What do the World Cup play-offs mean for Ukrainians? | Soccer News

Ahead of one of Dynamo Kyiv’s spring charity matches, a reporter asked Oleksandr Karavayev how he felt after reading about the situation in war-torn Ukraine.

“A low salute to our soldiers who are defending the Ukrainian land,” the defender of the Dynamo and Ukraine national team began to reply. He tried to continue, however, was choked with tears and couldn’t finish his sentence.

It was a moment that highlights the emotion every Ukrainian player will feel as fierce fighting continues across the country. Karavayev’s hometown of Kherson has been occupied since the start of the invasion and every day residents hear the sound of explosions.

The aftermath of a Russian airstrike that hit a hospital in Ukraine

It was a city to which Karavayev returned every year – not only to visit his parents, but also to organize a football tournament for children. Today, the 29-year-old is not even able to send medicine to his family because all valuable packages are confiscated by the Russian army.

Football, however, is playing its part in helping raise funds for war-affected Ukrainians. Earlier this year, Dynamo Kyiv played seven charity games across seven European countries – Poland, Turkey, Romania, Estonia, Switzerland, Croatia and Germany where a match in Dortmund brought in around €400,000.

Ukraine beat German side Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-1 in a charity fundraiser

Despite martial law and the ban on men between the ages of 18 and 60 leaving the country, the Ukrainian authorities have made an exception for footballers. Their goal is not only to raise charity funds, but the national team also wants to reach the World Cup and create a moment of happiness for a country that has been torn apart.

To do this, players need practice – something that has been rare. Despite this, defensive midfielder Taras Stepanenko – who saw his home village of Velyka Novoselytsia in the Donetsk region bombed and destroyed – hopes to repay these soldiers after revealing the key message from those on the front lines: “Our soldiers write to us regularly and ask for one thing only: to win the ticket for the World Cup.”

Only a handful of players have participated in regular competitions; Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko, Everton’s Vitaly Mykolenko, Eduard Sobol who just won the Belgian league title at Club Brugge, Benfica striker Roman Yaremchuk and Ruslan Malinovskyi of Atalanta.

Vitaly Mykolenko trained with the Ukrainian team after the Premier League season

Andriy Yarmolenko is another player who should be in the starting line-up regardless of how many minutes he has played for West Ham. He’s fiery, emotional, has a good left foot and has scored 44 goals, just four behind all-time record holder Andriy Shevchenko. Let’s hope these play-offs are the time when he can set a new record and bring joy to his native Chernihiv and the whole of Ukraine.

Speaking of Shevchenko, it was on June 30, 2021 that he raised both arms at Hampden Park as his side beat Sweden in extra time to reach the quarter-finals of the European Championships. Almost a year has passed and our new coach Oleksandr Petrakov, who replaced Shevchenko, has his own opinion on the team and tactics.

I have no doubt that on Wednesday the Ukrainian team will be cautious and disciplined in trying to counter Scotland’s tactics. However, after struggling to set up a friendly over the past week, it’s a mystery to all of us as to how the game will play out. What we do know, however, is that Ukraine will not be the underdog in spirit.

If you want to imagine what this match means for Ukraine, think back to the start of the invasion. Our head coach Petrakov wanted to join the territorial defense unit, take a machine gun and defend the country. The 64-year-old came to the military registration and enlistment office and was told, “We’ll get through this. And you better lead the team to the World Cup.”

Football is always on the minds of Ukrainians and I hope the sounds of celebration will resonate across the country on Wednesday.

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