Ukraine has didn’t qualify for this yr’s FIFA World Cup, soccer’s most prestigious match, after a 1-Zero defeat to Wales, however when your nation is at warfare it does not actually matter. The bloodshed continues, lives are nonetheless being misplaced.
But, for 90 minutes on a rain-soaked night in Wales, this match did matter, as a result of there was hope, a possibility to dream and to cheer.
As Ukraine’s gamers gathered within the altering room earlier than their winner-takes-all playoff last to qualify for this yr’s World Cup, they did so with a nationwide flag despatched from the entrance line hanging on one of many partitions.
This was a match the place warfare and soccer intertwined. There was no forgetting why the guts of the impartial was with Ukraine.
World Cup qualification would have given the Ukrainian individuals rather more than that, however a deflected Gareth Bale free-kick ensured it was Wales taking Europe’s last qualifying spot for Qatar in November.
A recreation’s significance may be gauged by the ambiance exterior the stadium within the hours main as much as kickoff. This was the type of match that had each units of followers queuing to achieve entry and milling round hours beforehand. The winner would take all of it and, in Wales’ case, make historical past.
Ukrainian followers, nearly all wearing nationwide colours, blended amiably with the house supporters and talked of the heat bestowed on them from the Wales followers.
“It is human friendship,” mentioned Nelya Sushereba, who had traveled from West London. “We really feel the assist, even from Welsh individuals.”
Ukraine’s followers had primarily come from London, and amongst them have been soccer novices.
For Essex-based Andriy Grabar and his spouse, Mariia, the Scotland match earlier this week was the primary that they had attended.
The couple talked a few want to assist the crew, given what is occurring of their homeland.
“Our individuals in Ukraine are ready for a cheerful emotion,” mentioned Andriy, whereas Mariia summed up the pre-match emotions succinctly: “It [would be] a small victory for an even bigger objective.”
On an emotionally charged night, Ukraine’s gamers walked onto the pitch with their nationwide flags draped over their shoulders.
Moments earlier than the gamers lined up for the anthems, the Welsh folks singer Dafydd Iwan sang “Yma o Hyd,” a tune adopted by Wales followers as their unofficial anthem. Its stirring lyrics — the refrain, translated into English, is “regardless of everybody and all the things, we’re nonetheless right here” — might even have resonated with the visiting followers.
For a lot of the match, Ukraine had essentially the most cause to cheer, although the pocket of 1,000 or so Ukrainians contained in the stadium might hardly be heard such was the din created by the house followers.
Wales’ first World Cup in 64 years
Wales has the heroics of goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey to thank for its place in Qatar. Within the first half Roman Yaremchuk and Viktor Tsygankov each saved the Welshman occupied, with the later losing the very best likelihood of the half when he was by means of on purpose however didn’t hit the goal.
And late on, an excellent save from Hennessey — tipping substitute Artem Dovbyk’s header from hazard — saved his crew in entrance.
In addition to Hennessey, Wales’ different key participant, as is commonly the case, was Bale, and it was his free-kick that was directed into the online by captain Andriy Yarmolenko.
Although Bale’s star had waned throughout these previous couple of years at Actual Madrid, the ahead continues to be Wales’ most potent participant, scoring two excellent objectives earlier this yr in opposition to Austria to fireplace Wales into this last.
For all of the pre-match benevolence — Wales followers even applauded Ukraine’s nationwide anthem — this was a match that will permit Wales to erase its World Cup demons.
Man had not stepped on the moon the final time Wales certified for soccer’s largest match, and a teenage Pele scored the profitable purpose that knocked Wales out of the 1958 quarterfinals. It has been an extended wait, with loads of qualifying close to misses.
Arguably, this could be the final alternative for the nation’s “Golden Era” — together with Bale and Aaron Ramsay — to qualify for the game’s showpiece occasion.
The house aspect needed to dig deep and, at occasions, the lads in crimson rode their luck, however on the last whistle it was Bale, substituted after the break, who sprinted onto the pitch to rejoice together with his teammates as Ukraine’s gamers fell onto their knees in despair.
The guests had given it all the things and, rightfully, each groups have been cheered by the followers on the last whistle. Amidst their jubilation, Wales’ gamers made time to go to the nook of the stadium the place Ukraine’s followers have been to, within the phrases of the crew’s supervisor Robert Web page, “present their appreciation to them.”
Requested about the way forward for the crew, Ukraine coach Oleksandr Petrakov instructed reporters after the match: “I can solely say we have a recreation approaching the eighth of this month and that is our future.”
“We did all the things that we might, however I actually need the individuals in Ukraine to recollect our crew efforts,” a crestfallen Petrakov added.
“I need to ask for forgiveness we did not rating however that is sport, that is the way it occurs. I am simply misplaced for phrases. I have no idea what to say.”