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Teary Zinchenko hopes for World Cup playoff win for Ukraine

The World Cup playoff game between Scotland and Ukraine on Wednesday is bound to be an emotional one, as Ukraine continues to suffer the Russian invasion.

Jennifer Bubel

The World Cup playoff matchup between Scotland and Ukraine was delayed due to the Russian invasion on Ukraine. Since then, Ukrainians have seen their country destroyed, lost loved ones, and witnessed horribly violent acts as their country is still in the midst of a brutal war. To put it bluntly, they have not had the privilege of focusing on sports.

Tonight, though, that match will finally happen, and it’s bound to be an emotional clash at Hampden. For the players on the Ukrainian national team, they will be playing while 44 million of their fellow citizens seek shelter from Russian bombs. Ukraine midfielder Taras Stepanenko’s village, Velyka Novoselytsia was completely destroyed. He said that soldiers write to the team often, asking them to qualify for the World Cup.

Defender Oleksander Zinchenko was teary during the pre-game press conference as he spoke about what winning this game and qualifying for the World Cup would mean to his country right now.

“Every Ukrainian wants one thing: to stop this war,” he said, fighting back tears. Slowly, Zinchenko spoke about his conversations with Ukrainian kids who couldn’t understand what was happening to their home.

“They only have one dream: to stop the war. When it comes to football, the Ukrainian team have their own dream: they want to go to a World Cup, they want to give these incredible emotions to the Ukrainians, because Ukrainians deserve it so very much at this moment.”

Stepan Luczka, a British-Ukrainian and chairman of the U.K. Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club, has family members fighting the war in the Donbas region.

“The 11 players on the pitch aren’t playing for the 3,000 fans Ukraine are bringing here. It’s for the 44 million Ukrainians in Ukraine,” said Luczka. “I feel like I shouldn’t be chanting, celebrating … because at the end of the day there’s a war going on. People are dying every day and I’m at a football match. To put it into that context, there’s more important things in the world.”

If Ukraine win, they will move on to play Wales for a spot at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Scotland has not made it to the tournament since 1998, but now they are just two wins away. No matter who wins, there are plans for the whole stadium to unite, singing the Ukraine national anthem together.

Song sheets will be handed out at the stadium so that the Scotland fans can sing along as well.

“I take this initiative extremely well,” said Zinchenko. “We have to be together. We have to fight Russian aggression, we have to basically defeat the evil. So, yes, this is an amazing, amazing initiative.


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