A tearful Oleksandr Zinchenko said Ukraine will fight to bring the “incredible emotions” of World Cup qualification to people in their homeland when they face Scotland on Wednesday and that, while a return to peace is the overwhelming priority, the national team aim to fulfil a footballing dream.
Ukraine will play their first official match since Russia’s invasion of the country at Hampden Park, with the prize a place in the Qatar 2022 playoff final against Wales. Football has paled into insignificance since 24 February but Zinchenko was visibly emotional when, asked how he and his teammates have been able to prepare for the fixture, he explained the effect success on the pitch could have.
“Every Ukrainian wants one thing, to stop this war,” he said. “I’ve spoken with people from all round the world, and also spoken to Ukrainian kids who just don’t understand what’s happening. They only have one dream: to stop the war.
“When it comes to football, the Ukrainian team have our own dream: we want to go to the World Cup, to give these incredible emotions to the people, because Ukrainians deserve it so much at this moment.” Zinchenko described a “fighting mood” in the squad before a game for which Ukraine, whose domestic-based core have not played competitive football since last year, are underdogs. “Everyone understands what is going on in Ukraine these days, what the situation is on the ground, and that’s why our motivation is definitely 100% to win,” he said.
The Ukraine manager Oleksandr Petrakov spoke of the difficulty involved in preparing his team for the game, which was originally scheduled for March.
“It’s a very difficult task when every single player is thinking about their fathers, mothers, close relatives back in Ukraine,” he said. “But clearly every player understands how huge the task is. I’m working under a lot of stress but still we’re trying to achieve our best, achieve the result, and our team is fully prepared to fight tomorrow.”
While events on the pitch may be uncompromising there has been a spirit of solidarity in the buildup. A group of Ukrainian and Scottish fans will sing Ukraine’s national anthem together on the Hampden Park steps at 6pm, with the local supporters being encouraged to learn the song phonetically.