Ukraine has been in the midst of a national crisis ever since Russia annexed Crimea. But now, thanks to the efforts of courageous Ukrainian footballers who have continued playing despite threats and death threats from Russian militants, Ukraine’s team is returning to soccer fields across their country for first time since 2014 as they hope for victory at Euro 2020 qualifiers this month.
After a friendly match against Borussia Monchengladbach, players from Ukraine salute their supporters. Getty Pictures
The Ukrainian men’s national team played for the first time since Russia invaded their country on Wednesday, defeating Bundesliga club Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-1 in a charity match.
The friendly was an opportunity for the Ukrainians to regain their form ahead of a World Cup qualifying playoff game against Scotland next month, but it was also a chance for them to demonstrate that their squad is still playing despite what is going on off the field.
In a video greeting to the German club and fans, former world heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko, whose brother Vitali is the mayor of Kyiv, stated, “We thank you all for your amazing cooperation.” “Both [teams] are playing for us,” it seemed like.
The team for the unprecedented club-versus-country match was put together from Ukrainian teams whose league seasons were halted on February 24, the day Russian soldiers invaded.
The players required special clearance to go since Ukraine has forbidden males of fighting age from leaving the nation throughout the conflict. Some have been in Europe for weeks, first playing fundraising games with Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk, then at a national-team training camp in Slovenia.
“I got tears in my eyes” when the Ukrainian anthem was performed before the game, according to coach Oleksandr Petrakov.
“Thank you to the Ukrainians who came to support us, and thank you to the Germans,” he remarked.
Petrakov said that he spent the early phases of the battle in his Kyiv residence. “You sit in your flat and you don’t know where a missile is going to hit,” he remarked at the time, when Russian soldiers were closing in on the city. “I hope no one has to go through it.”
Many Ukrainians were in the 20,000-strong audience, who had been granted free tickets to see their team play again, and they erupted in applause when winger Mykhailo Mudryk rounded the goalie and scored in the ninth minute to give Ukraine the lead.
Five minutes later, Gladbach equalized with a thunderous strike from Ireland youth international Conor Noss.
Midway through the second half, Mudryk had another wonderful opportunity but could only touch the ball into the keeper’s arms. With a low drive from just beyond the box in the 82nd minute, substitute Oleksandr Pikhalonok gave Ukraine the lead. Both of Ukraine’s goal scorers were making their national team debuts.
Ukraine hadn’t played since defeating Bosnia-Herzegovina 2-0 on November 16, and games had to be rescheduled due to the conflict. After such a long period without playing, Petrakov stated he was satisfied with the squad’s performance, but said the team still needed to improve on its faults.
If Ukraine wins its playoff against Scotland on June 1 in Glasgow, it will meet Wales four days later in Cardiff for a spot in this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Ukraine’s most well-known players, including as Manchester City left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko, West Ham United forward Andriy Yarmolenko, and Benfica attacker Roman Yaremchuk, are anticipated to join the group once their club seasons are through in time for the World Cup qualifying playoffs.
The Ukrainian Football Association announced that the national squad would play friendlies against Italian club Empoli and Croatian club Rijeka next week.