07/06/2022
Ukraine were victorious on their last visit to Hampden, beating Sweden in the last 16 of the European Championship late last summer.
place: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Wednesday 1 June time: 19:45 CET
Coverage: Hear live commentary on Sportsound, follow live text updates on the BBC Sport website and app and catch up on action highlights on Sportscene

One would not have felt cold if he had not touched the sight of Roman Yarmichuk struggling to hold his own when he took to the pitch for Benfica in late February to score a victory over Vitoria Guimarães in the Portuguese league.

The Ukrainian striker received a standing ovation when he came an hour later. His colleague Jan Vertonghen presented him with the captain’s armband. Tears welled up in his eyes, and his lower lip trembled.

Three days ago his country was invaded. His friends and family back home were at war.

“My friends are fighting in Ukraine, my people are fighting in Ukraine and I have to fight here,” the striker said after the match. “I can’t fight there, but I can fight here on the field.”

In that spirit, Yarmichuk and his teammates will face Scotland in the World Cup semi-finals on Wednesday.

How prepared is this Ukrainian team?

With the invasion came the abandonment of domestic football in Ukraine, which at that time was in its annual winter period.

The league season officially ended after 18 matches at the end of April, with the greats Shakhtar Donetsk and defending champions Dynamo Kyiv vying for the title. It is an address that will never be given.

About half of Oleksandr Petrakov’s team plays in the Big Two, with two more in Dnipro. It was an obvious problem for the Ukrainian coach when he prepared the game for Hampden.

After local players were given special permission to leave the country to train with their clubs, they set up a camp in Brdo, near the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana.

They’ve been there as a group since early May, playing three friendlies against teams in Germany, Italy and Croatia, most notably the 2-1 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Ukrainian striker Roman Yarmashuk scored for Benfica in the 3-3 April Champions League draw with Liverpool at Anfield.

These players are gradually joined by other players playing elsewhere in Europe, including Yarmashuk, Everton left-back Vitaly Mikolenko, Manchester City midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko, winger Andrey Yarmolenko, who has just left West Ham United, and Club Brugge defender Eduard Sobol.

Over the weekend, the Ukrainian national team held a so-called “sparring match” in which one team played “similar to the Scottish national team”.

Then they spent Saturday night watching the Champions League final, cheering for Real Madrid from their goalkeeper Andrei Lunin and keeping a close eye on Scotland captain Andy Robertson. Thibaut Courtois’ replacement, Lunin, will be the last to arrive with the group ahead of their trip to Glasgow.

With so many pitches out since December, that could be seen as an advantage for Scotland and veteran Shakhtar goalkeeper Andrei Pyatov admits some of those who have trained are a bit tired. However, they insist they are ready.

how good they are

While Scotland are trying to reach back-to-back major finals for the first time since 1998, Ukraine have qualified regularly in recent years, making their debut in the 2006 World Cup Finals and most recently participating three times in a row in the European Championship.

In fact, they reached the quarter-finals at Euro 2020 before Luke Shaw and Harry Kane beat them 4-0 in Rome.

Some players seem to be cut off from international football and Yarmolenko is one of them. The 32-year-old has scored 44 goals in 106 international matches.

Zinchenko was one of the reasons why Manchester City celebrated winning the title again. The 25-year-old, who was involved at halftime on a dramatic final day, helped put things back on track with an excellent 45-minute performance. It is a clear threat.

Oleksandr Zinchenko celebrates another title with Manchester City, his fourth win with the club
Oleksandr Zinchenko celebrated the title again with Manchester City, his fourth with the club

Shakhtar’s Taras Stepanenko tends to anchor the midfield, while the likes of Zinchenko and Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovsky and Dynamo Kyiv’s Mykola Shabarenko are more free to support the top three – Yarmolenko, Viktor Tsygankov and Yaremchuk, who are likely to top the line in attack.

Ukraine finished second in their qualifying group behind France but did not lose a single match. Kyiv’s Serhiy Sidorchuk equalized against world champions in Saint-Denis and team-mate Shabarenko had put them ahead against France in the Ukrainian capital later in the season. Both matches ended 1:1.

Having managed the seemingly difficult part, they have won only two of their eight matches and drawn the other six, including twice against bottom-ranked Kazakhstan.

However, it is dangerous everywhere and it will be difficult to break it.

What about the emotional side?

Last week, about 150 displaced Ukrainian children visited the “blue and yellow” performers who gave them drawings and paintings.

They watched the team train but it was a reminder that the game, while important, is just a game of football.

“We know our compatriots are dying to go home, but it’s still dangerous in Ukraine, especially for children and women,” said Slovenian base coach Petrakov.

“Therefore, I would like to wish patience to our Ukrainians. We believe in our armed forces that will restore peace to our country. We will play in Glasgow and I can assure you that the players will do everything in their power to reach the World Cup.” “

What the future holds for Ukraine as a country is uncertain.

However, for his football team and the many people preparing to reach the finals in Qatar at the end of what has been their most agonizing year, their ambitions for 2022 on the pitch could not be clearer.

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