Ukraine's World Cup dreams end with 1-0 loss to Wales
The Ukrainian national football team’s hopes of giving the war-torn country something to celebrate fell apart on Sunday evening when an own goal handed Wales a 1-0 win in the final European playoff for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
The sole goal of the game came in the 34th minute at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, when Andriy Yarmolenko deflected a Gareth Bale free kick into his own net. Attempts to level the score fell apart throughout the second half, with Yarmolenko himself coming close to tying things up in stoppage time only to have his chance slip away.
That unfortunate result does not reflect the visitor’s performance. Ukraine dominated the game with 68 percent of the ball and far more shots on target. They proved a far more cohesive squad, with confident passing often frustrating the Welsh in midfield.
But the score is the only thing that matters, and the end result means that Wales will join England, Iran and the United States in Group B at the 2022 Qatar World Cup, returning to the global football tournament for only the second time ever following a quarterfinals finish in 1958.
For Ukraine the loss is a bitter pill to swallow. The players entered the field with a lot more on their mind than just a game of football. They displayed a flag covered in handwritten messages from soldiers on the front line in their dressing room and made it clear in pre-match interviews that they were hoping to give their country something to celebrate.
The Welsh fans were welcoming, offering the visiting side almost as much support as their own team. The 1,700 Ukrainian fans in the 33,000-seat stadium received loud vocal support from the opposition, including a poignant round of applause for the losing side when the game ended.
On the pitch, the only thing the Welsh players could do was honor their opponents by giving it their best shot which, as it turned out, was enough to carry them through to the World Cup.
“Everyone needs to continue to fight, as footballers we need to represent our country as best we can,” Ukraine and Manchester City midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko said after the game. “Everyone needs to live in peace and we need to stop the war altogether. Today it’s Ukraine, but who knows tomorrow, we need to stay together. I feel sorry for our fans, but I wish Wales all the best for the World Cup.”
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]