Brdo Castle (Slovenia) (AFP) – Ukraine midfielder Taras Stepanenko said Friday that the team from the war-torn country would “play with our souls and our hearts” as they prepare in Slovenia for their 2022 World Cup play-off against Scotland.
Preparations started this week at the Slovenian Football Association training centre at Brdo pri Kranju, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of the capital Ljubljana.
Ukraine coach Oleksandr Petrakov gathered 23 players from Ukrainian clubs and expects others to arrive from across Europe when the season ends.
Since their arrival to Brdo, players have been training twice a day, giving the coach the opportunity to choose who he will take to Scotland for the game on June 1.
Stepanenko said the war, which began when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, had kept him away from the football field and without training for over a month, but he and his team-mates were getting back in shape.
“It is not only a football game. We have to play with our souls and our hearts,” the 32-year-old told journalists before beginning afternoon training.
“We get messages from our soldiers… and they have only one demand: please make everything you can to go on to the World Cup.”
If the team qualifies for Qatar, “it will be a celebration for the country,” Stepanenko said.
“For the country, for them (soldiers) it’s a moment of hope,” he said.
Ukraine will play a friendly game with German club Borussia Moenchengladbach on May 11, the country’s football association announced last Friday, in a warm-up ahead of their World Cup play-off against Scotland in Glasgow.
Petrakov said more friendlies are being negotiated by the Ukrainian Football Federation.
“The most important for our players is that they give all they can at the friendlies, as if they were official matches,” Petrakov said.
“We would like to go to Qatar very much,” Petrakov told journalists.
He added that UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin had suggested they prepare at the Slovenian FA’s training base.
The fixture with Scotland was rearranged at the request of Ukraine from March 24 to June 1 following the Russian invasion.
The winner of the match will play Wales in Cardiff on June 5 to determine which country goes to Qatar.
200+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
- Includes NBC, USA, FOX, ESPN, CBSSN & more
Live & On Demand TV Streaming
- Price: $69.99/mo. for Entertainment package
- Watch World Cup, Euro 2024 & MLS
- Includes ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 + local channels
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
- Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
2,000+ soccer games per year
- Price: $4.99/mo
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & NWSL
- Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
- Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
- Chelsea sale to Boehly consortium to be completed on Monday
- Liverpool and Real Madrid ready for Champions League final rematch
- Where to find Liverpool vs. Real Madrid on US TV
- Hrustic, Rogic spearhead Australia squad for crunch World Cup playoff
- Deal Alert: Best streaming deals this Memorial Day Weekend
- Africa beckons for Royal after dramatic draw with Orlando Pirates
- Regret? Skupski prioritises French Open over Champions League ticket
- Klopp urges Liverpool to show Madrid who’s boss in Champions League final
- Ancelotti says Real Madrid can achieve ‘the maximum’ by winning Champions League
- Mancini thanks Chiellini before Italy send-off against Argentina