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Ukraine notch emotional win over Scotland to move one step away from World Cup


The end for Scotland, but perhaps the start of one of those beautifully stirring stories that only sport can offer.

These heroic Ukrainian players have already given their people so much with this 3-1 win at Hampden Park, in this first match since the invasion, but it also showed they are capable of so much more.

They are now just one more game from the World Cup itself, and Cardiff on Sunday may be an even greater occasion.

It is put into the context by the fact people in Ukraine itself had to watch this from air-raid shelters due to alerts going across the entire country, but this was also who this team were playing for. It was who they were pushing themselves to the very limit for, in those frantic last few minutes when tiredness of course set in.

That could be seen with the way so many of the team sank to the ground as Artem Dovbyk scored the decisive goal, too exhausted to celebrate, but still feeling the exhilaration that can only come from total immersion.

They had given everything – and will now play for the one thing that means everything in international football: a place at the World Cup. It will somehow mean even more for Ukraine.

It was all the more remarkable given six of these starting players had not played a competitive game this year. They now have one more match against Wales to go.

Both teams enter at Hampden Park on Wednesday night

(EPA)

It is a wonder what Ukraine could have done to Scotland had the home-based contingent of this squad been able to play competitive football over the last few months.

They were just a class above Steve Clarke’s side, repeatedly cutting them open with angled moves. There were periods of the first half when Ukraine were the only side putting three passes together – let alone the surges that sliced through Scotland – so their supporters were the only side singing.

The home side remarkably went off to boos at half-time, something which prompted a slight rebuke from stadium announcer about how the boys could really do with their voice.

The reality was it could have been even worse.

Scotland were given warning after just eight minutes when an innovative Roman Yaremchuk flick set up Viktor Tsygankov for an effort that Craig Gordon saved well, before the goalkeeper stopped Yarmolenko from almost point-blank range.

Scotland scrambled that one clear, but remained chaotic.

It eventually got to the point where not even Gordon could do much for Yarmolenko’s next effort. On 33 minutes, for the moment Ukrainian people have waited so long for, Taras Stepanenko played a divine ball up from the centre of defence. Gordon had already come out, to leave the goal open, but Yarmolenko still had to close it out.

He did so with glorious fluidity, controlling the dropping ball before immediately lifting it, all in the same movement and emotionally stirring most of the world.

Andriy Yarmolenko expertly lobbed Craig Gordon for the opening goal

(Reuters)

It was a moment of realisation as well as celebration. For all that national emotion was driving Ukraine, their talent looks capable of taking them far on its own.

It was becoming an exhibition as much as an occasion.

Scotland, apparently capable of little more than getting it to their front man in Lyndon Dykes, even found Ukraine were better at that.

Straight after half-time, Oleksandr Karavaev lifted the ball up to Yaremchuk, who just rose up and headed it down.

It was a beautiful moment for a player who had been one of the sporting images of the country’s fate earlier this season on being reduced to tears when being cheered on as a substitute for Benfica.

Here, he ran to the away end, the players and fans in an embrace that was meant to be wrapped around a country.

Roman Yaremchuk doubled Ukraine’s lead after the break

(Action Images via Reuters)

Ukraine now had assurance from their lead.

They next had to show their football mettle.

That is a phrase that sounds almost ridiculous given the character of these players in even giving an account of themselves for a game like this, but they feel more than anybody that they need to do this for their country.

The working circumstances of the last few months naturally started to have an effect, and they started to be forced back. Players began to slip at crucial moments. Scotland’s frenzied play began to bring the right kind of chaos.

The ball was pinging around Georgiy Buschan’s box so much it could have gone anywhere.

For one huge John McGinn chance, it somehow went wide.

For one speculative Callum McGregor strike, it somehow went in. Bushcan let the ball slip through his fingers, and it just about bounced over the line.

Callum McGregor’s goal was in vain for Scotland

(AP)

Hampden Park at least believed. But not as much as Ukraine. They persevered.

In that incredible final scene, as Scotland threw everything forward, the space opened up behind. Dovbyk went through to put his country through.

There were barely celebrations, at least on the pitch.

In the crowd behind that goal, there were celebrations that meant more than most in football ever could.

This team have already given their country enough. They are capable of even more.

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