Oleksandr Zinchenko of Ukraine and Manchester City speaks to Sky. “When this started on 24 February, nobody was thinking about football, or that this game was going to happen. It’s impossible to describe when you are in this position. As footballers, we have unbelievable lives, we have family, we have facilities, everything around us. But there are people struggling and suffering, it is impossible to describe. My mission is to try to help Ukrainian people as much as I can, to make them proud that they are Ukrainian, that they will live in freedom, and that our nation is never going to give up. Everyone is going to give everything.”
Bulging pre-match postbag. “Come on Ukraine!’” begins Shaun Tooze. “I would normally want Scotland to win this but having been displaced from Ukraine to Poland with the beautiful lady and our cat, her family (still there) are asking who I am supporting tonight, so, despite my love for Andy Robertson (Liverpool man) I’m going for Ukraine. What else can I do? Either way, I think it’ll be emotional and probably go all the way to penalties. (We’re still stuck in Poland by the way, because some people in the UK can’t get their heads out of their arses and give us permission for the beautiful dumbass cat.)”
For the purposes of balance, Simon McMahon adds: “What’s happening in Ukraine is bad, really bad, and I wish all their players, staff, families and supporters well – but this is the World Cup, baby. COME ON SCOTLAND!!!”
It’s going to be an emotional night for everyone involved. Libby Brooks reports from Hampden, where Scottish and Ukrainian supporters have literally banded together in solidarity. Take it away, everyone.
Scots have been incredible from the moment the war started. They have rallied round and put their arms around Ukraine.
The winner of this tie will play Wales in Cardiff on Sunday. The Welsh will be going into that one on the back of a decent performance but a disappointing result in Wroclaw, having just lost 2-1 to Poland in their opening match in Nations League Group A4. Jonny Williams opened the scoring on 52 minutes with a fine long-range dipper, but Jakub Kaminski equalised 20 minutes later, and Karol Swiderski completed the comeback with five minutes to go. Rob Page had understandably left the big guns out – no Gareth Bale, for example – so won’t be too concerned ahead of the big one.
There’s a first start tonight for Aaron Hickey, the latest in Scotland’s seemingly never-ending line of highly promising left-backs. That’s captain Andrew Robertson’s beat, though, so Hickey moves across from his normal position with Bologna to the right, where he replaces Stephen O’Donnell. Liam Cooper stands in for the injured Kieran Tierney on the left side of the back three, while Lyndon Dykes pairs up with Che Adams up front.
Scotland: Gordon, McTominay, Hanley, Cooper, Hickey, Gilmour, McGregor, Robertson, McGinn, Adams, Dykes.
Subs: Hendry, McKenna, Marshall, Ferguson, Brown, Stewart, Kelly, Souttar, Armstrong, Christie, O’Donnell, Taylor.
Ukraine: Bushchan, Karavayev, Zabarnyi, Matviyenko, Mykolenko, Stepanenko, Yarmolenko, Malinovsky, Zinchenko, Tsygankov, Yaremchuk.
Subs: Riznyk, Dovbyk, Bondar, Kacharaba, Pyatov, Mudryk, Syrota, Sydorchuk, Sobol, Shaparenko, Pikhalyonok, Zubkov.
Referee: Danny Makkelie (Dordrecht).
The world’s eyes are on Hampden as Ukraine’s men’s football team play their first game since the invasion of their country by Vladimir Putin. This World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final was due to be played in March, but the conflict led to its postponement. Many of Ukraine’s men were called up to the army, but Oleksandr Petrakov’s team were given special dispensation to prepare for this rearranged fixture at a training camp in Brdo, Slovenia. Now they’re looking to give their folks back home a little joy by qualifying for the finals in Qatar. “We are going to try to make them happy and proud,” says Oleksandr Zinchenko. “I’m pretty sure that all in Ukraine who have this opportunity is going to watch us, and we are going to feel this support 100 percent.”
The awful backdrop to this game might not help Scotland attract many neutral viewers this evening. But they will have a packed and partisan Hampden roaring behind them. While Ukraine are looking to add to their one and only appearance at the World Cup, in 2006, Scotland have dreams of their own, hoping to make it for the first time since 1998. History is on their side: they’ve made it to the finals on eight previous occasions, and have emerged triumphant from both of their qualification play-offs, against Wales in 1977 and Australia in 1985. Ukraine have yet to progress from any play-offs, after five attempts. Scotland have also won the one and only meeting between the teams in Glasgow: 3-1 in 2007.
The winner of tonight’s match will face Wales in the play-off final on Sunday. May the best team win, and whatever the result, Scotland stands with Ukraine. Kick off is at 7.45pm BST.