Ukraine’s head coach, Oleksandr Petrakov, has revealed his players will hang a flag given to them by soldiers fighting on the frontline against attacks from Russia in their dressing room before their World Cup playoff final on Sunday. However the midfielder Oleksandr Karavayev said his country do not expect a free pass or “presents” against Wales in Cardiff.
Ukraine secured a spot in the playoff final after an impressive performance in victory over Scotland in Glasgow on Wednesday. Hours later the team flew to Wales, where they received a welcome message on arrival at Cardiff airport. The Football Association of Wales has given 100 tickets to Ukrainian refugees for the game.
Karavayev’s family are based in the Russian-occupied city of Kherson. “They cannot watch the match because there is no connection and internet,” said Karavayev, whose club, Dynamo Kyiv, have not played a game since December. “But they communicate by messages and read the news. I had my birthday on 2 June and my mum’s on Friday and it [victory over Scotland] was a nice present for them. My friends follow the news and it was also a nice present for them.
“It was very emotional for us and we had very strong support even from Scottish fans. We felt that and it helped us. In the last two or three years we had no full stadiums and it’s really good to have that and such support.”
About taking on Wales on Sunday, Karavayev said: “Sport is sport and we don’t expect presents or an unfair win. We know how hard it is and it is the most important game of their lives and we really wish to win. We will do everything possible to win.”
Petrakov said there was no pressure on Ukraine to win the game. “I do not communicate with any soldiers but my players write to soldiers and they received a flag from the war, which they promised to hang in the dressing room,” he said. “It is a really hard situation in Ukraine and not everybody has a chance to watch football. Not everyone does because of many problems. We will try to concentrate tomorrow and have a good game.”
Petrakov, whose side trained on Saturday exactly 24 hours before kick-off, pointed to Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Daniel James as key threats. “I noted that the [Wales] team is very cooperated and very good, especially Bale, Ramsey and James,” he said. “But I think we are good too and everybody will have the chance to see a good game.”