KARDIFF – Far from battlefields and Russian invaders, Ukrainian footballers, freed from military service, try to fulfill the mission to lead their country to the World Cup.
As they prepare to face Wales in a play-off final on Sunday, they’ll get a little extra inspiration in their Cardiff dressing room from a yellow and blue flag sent by soldiers on the front lines in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and signed with messages.
It was on Wednesday at Glasgow’s Hampden Park that Scotland were beaten in the play-off semi-finals. Since then, players have continued to exchange messages with friends who have defended their homeland a war that has passed 100 days.
“We all hope that Ukraine will be liberated and return to an independent country very soon,” Ukraine midfielder Oleksandr Karavayev said through a translator in the Welsh capital.
“It’s a big positive boost and brings positive emotions because everyone believes and sees how the whole world is united around us.”
The Dynamo Kyiv player still has family in the southern city of Kherson, which was captured by Russia at the start of the war.
“You can’t watch the game because there is no connection and no internet,” Karavayev said. “But they communicate through messages and they read the messages.”
Keeping Ukraine in the headlines can be achieved in part by the men qualifying for a first World Cup since 2006. But it could be some time before their compatriots on the front lines hear the outcome in Wales.
“It’s a really difficult situation in Ukraine and not everyone has the opportunity to watch football,” coach Oleksandr Petrakov said through a translator.
“I don’t communicate with soldiers, but the team writes to soldiers and even received a war flag which they promised to hang in the dressing room.”
From there, they will step onto the field to face a Welsh side who are looking to return to FIFA’s flagship after even longer waiting, having last featured at the 1958 finals. As usual, Wales are expected to be supported by their strong party and emotional supporters.
“Sport is sport and we don’t expect gifts or an unfair win,” Karavayev said. “We know how difficult it is and this is the most important game in our lives. But we want to win and we will do everything to do it.”
Wales captain Gareth Bales brings a lot of sympathy for Ukraine but also a ruthless sporting determination to qualify.
So would Bale apologize to Ukraine for snatching their own World Cup dream?
“As awful as it sounds, no,” Bale replied.
“It’s a football game and a competition that we also want to be part of. Everyone in the world feels for Ukraine, but for this game it’s a football game. It’s sport, it brings everyone together. We understand what it will mean for Ukraine, but we want to be at the World Cup. It doesn’t come from a terrible place, it comes from our country, our hearts. We want to deliver for our own fans.”
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https://www.local10.com/news/2022/06/04/backed-from-frontlines-ukraine-tries-to-seal-world-cup-spot/ Supported from the front, Ukraine is trying to secure a place in the World Cup