As the Russian war of aggression rages on, the Ukrainian national team will play for World Cup participation on Wednesday. Oleksandr Zinchenko wants to give his compatriots “a few seconds of a smile”. Ukraine’s qualifier is much more than just football.
Oleksandr Zinchenko can hardly calm down. “I’m shaking inside,” the Ukraine international told the BBC. The 25-year-old’s agitation these days is not the result of shocking reports from his homeland, which is suffering from the Russian war of aggression. On the contrary. Zinchenko wants to qualify with Ukraine for the soccer World Cup in Qatar and give his compatriots “perhaps a smile for a few seconds”.
On Wednesday (8.45 p.m. in the FOCUS Online live ticker) Ukraine will play Scotland in Hampden Park in Glasgow. If Zinchenko and Co. win their first competitive game since the outbreak of war at the end of February, they will play for the last World Cup ticket in Wales on Sunday.
“This game is one of the most important in my life. The guys look ready and there’s no need to talk about motivation at all,” Zinchenko said. At the World Cup, his team would face England, Iran and the United States.
These are still distant dreams. And even if the Ukrainian players are highly motivated and certainly have the support of all neutral fans in the world, Scotland will not simply accept their fate. In addition, the preparation of the team was not normal in line with the situation.
The team has been training in Slovenia for a few days at the invitation of Uefa President Aleksander Ceferin, but many find it difficult to concentrate on football due to the fate of their families. In addition, some professionals have not played a game for several months. “But in this case there are no excuses,” Zinchenko said.
The Manchester City pro knows what it’s like to be a folk hero in his homeland. Last summer, the blond boy led the outsider to the quarter-finals of the European Championship with one goal and one assist. Not even a year later, the pictures from back then seem like they are from another time. “When the war started, it was hard to focus on football,” Zinchenko said. All his thoughts were with the Ukrainians.
His national team colleague Andriy Jarmolenko, who plays for West Ham, had a similar experience: “It’s so difficult to think about football at the moment. The Russian army is killing people in Ukraine every day.”
The game in Scotland and the possible climax in Wales should certainly also be a sign to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Ukraine is still alive. Ukraine will fight to the end. That’s our mentality. We never give up,” said Zinchenko. Words that could have come from its President Volodymyr Zelenskyj.
In Hampden Park, the great support in the stands will probably be missing. Ukrainian men are not allowed to leave their homeland because of the war, one hopes for Ukrainian exiles living in Great Britain. The jerseys that the team recently wore at the benefit game in Mönchengladbach are banned in the World Cup playoffs because of the political message. Thus, Zinchenko and his teammates will play in the jerseys of the last European Championship. A little piece of the peaceful and joyful past.