Ukrainian soccer team plays on amid war
A reminder of the war
It may be thousands of miles from the frontline, but the Ukrainian soccer team is never far from the horrors of war. While the squad has assembled in the leafy suburbs of London ahead of its Euro 2024 qualifying match against England, Russian forces continue to bombard Ukraine – with deadly missile strikes seen across the country this week.
Minds at home
The team’s minds are very much with their friends and family back home as they prepare for Sunday’s game. Many members of the squad have an application on their phone that alerts them when there is an air-raid siren back home. Others start every day by scrolling through social media to check whether there were any Russian attacks from the night before. They do this to ensure their loved ones are safe, but it also serves as a constant reminder of just how perilous the situation is.
A difficult preparation
It’s far from the perfect preparation for a match against a team ranked fifth in the world and boasting some of the best players on the planet. England reached the World Cup quarterfinals last year and beat Ukraine 4-0 on its way to the European Championship final in 2021. But despite the odds being stacked against them, Ukraine’s players still have hope.
Learning to cope
Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the team has been learning to cope with its difficult conditions and has tried to adapt the way it prepares for games. Without wanting to put undue pressure on the players, the coaching staff tries to harness the anguish of back home on the pitch. Despite being the away side on Sunday, it promises to be an electric atmosphere inside Wembley, which is expecting over 4,000 Ukrainian fans.
A friendly battle
The English Football Association and Wembley Stadium invited more than 1,000 Ukrainian refugees, and the families who’ve sponsored them, as special guests for the match. The game will be a friendly battle, with Ukraine’s caretaker coach Ruslan Rotan welcoming the gesture but promising the niceties will end once the referee blows his whistle.
An uphill battle
For many of the players, it’s been a logistical battle to even get to the training camp in London. Now that the Ukrainian Premier League has resumed, many of the national players are back playing in the safer Western areas of the country. However, with no airlines flying directly from Ukraine, it took some players almost 24 hours to arrive in the UK.
A chance to show who they are
Despite all the obstacles in their way, the players are confident they can pull off a surprise result on Sunday. Ukraine midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi said, “it will be a nice game, a nice test to see what level we are. Everybody is motivated and it’s a chance to show who we are. We need to take out the pressure and play our football.”
A moment of respite
Despite there being no obvious end to the fighting, everyone from the Ukrainian squad has hope that the wounds will slowly start to heal over time and things will one day go back to normal. Until then, this team is focused on providing its compatriots with 90 minutes of respite amid the bleakness of war. On Sunday, they have the opportunity to do so in a stadium dubbed the “home of football” – a powerful moment for a country still under attack.
Believing in a miracle
“Everyone understands England is a very, very strong team. It will not be easy but when you watch football, everyone believes in a miracle,” said Oleksandr Glyvynskyy, the Ukrainian team’s media representative.