Joyous Ukraine keep World Cup dream alive

Graham DunbarReuters
Roman Yaremchuk celebrates with overjoyed Ukraine fans after scoring his side's second at Hampden.
Camera IconRoman Yaremchuk celebrates with overjoyed Ukraine fans after scoring his side's second at Hampden. Credit: AP

Ukraine's emotion-filled quest to qualify for the World Cup amid an ongoing war has moved a step closer with a 3-1 win over Scotland in a pulsating playoff semi-final in Glasgow.

Veteran captain Andriy Yarmolenko lifted his nation on Wednesday night by scoring a deft lobbed goal in the 33rd minute and then helped set up Roman Yaremchuk's header in the 49th.

Ukraine dominated for much of a deserved win though they had to resist a Scotland revival as risk-filled attacks brought a goal in the 79th by Callum McGregor, before Ukraine substitute Artem Dovbyk broke clear to score with the last kick of the game.

Dovbyk led teammates toward the corner at Hampden Park to share the celebration with 3000 Ukraine fans in the 51,000 crowd, applauding each other with hands raised high above their heads.

Now Ukraine move on to face Wales on Sunday with a place at the World Cup at stake.

The winner in Cardiff will go to Qatar in November to play in a group against England, the United States and Iran.

Ukraine put in a slick display despite using six starters who had not played a competitive game of any kind since December.

Most of Ukraine's squad play for home-based clubs whose league was shut down after Russia's invasion, and the playoff in Glasgow was postponed in March. FIFA and Scotland agreed to give the Ukrainian team a fair chance to prepare for games that have become a focus of national identity and pride.

Scotland lacked the class needed and their wait for World Cup soccer now extends beyond the 24 years since they went to the 1998 tournament.

Ukraine's win could have been sealed earlier but for saves early and often by 39-year-old Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon. When the Scots chased a way back into the game, John McGinn placed a 67th-minute header inexplicably wide from close range.

Ukraine is riding a wave of global goodwill as the victim of Russian aggression and its players' intense motivation to reward the nation with a place on soccer's biggest stage was clear.

The Ukrainian players all walked onto the field with a blue and yellow national flag draped on their shoulders.

The warm welcome saw Ukraine's national anthem "Shche ne vmerla Ukrainas" applauded loudly by Scotland fans. Many of those same fans stayed after the game to salute their victorious opponents off the field.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the national team, saying the victory would bring joy to soldiers fighting against Russia.

"Thank you guys! Two hours of happiness, something we have become unaccustomed to," Zelensky said in an online post.

"Joy to our soldiers, joy to the entire country. We are all fighting, everyone on their own front. "We will fight on, we will withstand everything, we will win. For we are Ukrainians."

Some of the Ukrainian fans at Hampden Park had traveled far and had made plans to stay in Britain for the decisive playoff Sunday.

George Butromeyev said he came from Toronto with friends to support the players who "need to show the people of Ukraine that we are warriors."

In Kyiv, fans determined to get together to see the match had the war-time night-time curfew to contend with, which kicked in at 11 pm local time, before the start of the second half.

The Beer & Meet bar in downtown Kyiv got around the restriction on movement by offering fans the possibility to stay there until 5 am, when the curfew ends.

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