Monday , July 4 2022

Ukraine deny Scotland on emotional night to set up playoff final with Wales | World Cup 2022

The only threat to Ukraine’s bid to keep their World Cup campaign alive came from a level of physical and mental fatigue that was wholly understandable. When Artem Dovbyk strode forward to score in the fifth minute of stoppage time, it was clear even tiredness could not halt the Ukrainian dream.

There will be inevitable focus on the paucity of Scotland’s showing here but Ukraine were exceptional. After Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk handed the visitors a deserved two-goal lead, unlikely home hope arose from a goalkeeping blunder.

In plain football terms, let alone taking into account the circumstances Ukraine’s players encountered before this match, late Scotland salvation would have been totally unfair. Cheers reverberated from Glasgow to Kyiv – including in many towns and cities in between – after it did not arrive. The scale of emotion as Ukraine celebrated their win was appropriate. The stars wore yellow.

“Focus on football” had been the recurring pre-match message from within the Scotland camp. That essentially happened straight from kick-off, with every crunching tackle by those in navy met with roars of approval from the majority of the crowd. Earlier, when draped in the flags of their country, Ukraine players had clapped those supporters for their widespread applause of their national anthem.

The approach of everyone associated with the Scotland team to Ukraine has been on point from the moment it was clear this semi-final, initially scheduled for March, would at the very least be delayed. Ukraine had no desire to be patronised here; they duly were not.

Steve Clarke’s insistence that the scale of this football challenge had to be respected partly resonated in the knowledge that Ukraine have fine players. Within 17 minutes, the visitors had twice been denied by a superb Craig Gordon.

Scotland’s goalkeeper saved acrobatically from Viktor Tsygankov. His next stop, when Yarmolenko looked certain to score from close range , was even better. As Gordon leapt upon the loose ball, the Ukraine coach, Oleksandr Petrakov, did nothing to mask his frustration. At age 39, Gordon remains in the form of his life.

Craig Gordon pulls off a save to help keep Scotland in the game against Ukraine
Craig Gordon pulls off a save to help keep Scotland in the game against Ukraine. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Scotland spent those early exchanges struggling to gain a foothold in the game. Clarke had gambled with the deployment of two strikers, Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes, but looked on as the opposition midfield imposed themselves on proceedings. Ukraine were the slicker, sharper, more coherent team during the opening half. And by a considerable distance.

When the goal that Ukraine completely deserved arrived it was blissfully simple. A chipped pass from the deep-lying Ruslan Malinovskyi should have been swept up by the Scottish central defence. Instead, Yarmolenko was allowed to reach it first. The West Ham player showed composure to loft the ball over the onrushing Gordon. Home appeals for offside proved in vain. The sense of Scotland stage fright was both impossible to ignore and ominously similar to what transpired throughout games at this venue during last summer’s Euros.

Clarke used the break to make the perfectly logical move to replace the ineffectual Dykes with Ryan Christie. In doing so, the manager wanted to amend a back-to-front approach that had failed to work. The problem was, Ukraine doubled their lead before Scotland had a chance to implement their new plan.

Generous defending was again a factor. Oleksandr Karavaev was given time and space to float a cross to the back post, where Yaremchuk was the gleeful benefactor. Neither Aaron Hickey nor Scott McTominay could beat the striker in the air. Yaremchuk nodded past the helpless Gordon from all of six yards.

Roman Yaremchuk doubles Ukraine’s lead with a header
Roman Yaremchuk doubles Ukraine’s lead with a header. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

While Ukraine celebrated wildly, Scotland were hit with the stark realisation of being in deep trouble. The hosts’ challenge would have been insurmountable but for a smart Gordon block from Yarmolenko.

The Ukraine goalkeeper, Heorhiy Bushchan, perhaps through boredom, cracked a clearance against the onrushing Callum McGregor. In summing up all that had gone before, the ball flew wide of the goal.

John McGinn then passed up the kind of opportunity Scotland had desperately wanted. After Bushchan flapped at a cross, the Aston Villa midfielder had a glorious chance to head into the net from close range. Instead, McGinn inexplicably sent his attempt wide. It was no wonder he slumped to his knees.

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That the erratic Bushchan played his part in a Scotland goal was little surprise. McGregor was really only trying to keep an attack alive with a lofted ball that the goalkeeper allowed to squirm through his hands. The assistant referee rightly adjudged the ball had bounced over the line before a despairing Ukraine clearance.

Scotland, who had been generally desperate until this 79th-minute juncture, had a pulse. The final act, though, belonged to Dovbyk as he marauded on to Oleksandr Zinchenko’s through pass. Only the bold can assert that Wales will deny Ukraine their spot in Qatar.

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