Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) – Ukrainians on Tuesday hoped for victory on the football field, a day before their national team plays its first official match since Russia’s invasion, facing Scotland in a World Cup qualifier.
The Ukraine-Scotland match will be held in Glasgow on Wednesday. It was rescheduled from March after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent in troops to Ukraine on February 24.
After three months of war, fans said a win for their team would offer a much-needed sense of joy.
“I am hoping for victory,” a 44-year-old army serviceman, Andriy Veres, told AFP in Kyiv.
“These days it is very important for the country, for all people, for all those who are fans and even for those who are not.”
He likened the Ukrainian team’s hope for a win to the country praying for success on the frontline.
“We believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, we believe in our national football team,” Veres, who hopes to be able to watch the game despite military duties, said.
Football fans in Ukraine have missed watching the sport, as all matches have been cancelled since Moscow’s attack.
Ukraine’s team trained for the World Cup playoffs in Slovenia, as stadiums and other sports infrastructure have been at risk of Russian bombing.
“Any event involving peaceful life will be highly welcome,” Vladyslav Dykhan, a 53-year-old construction worker, told AFP.
“You cannot only focus on the war. We need a way to blow off steam.”
It would be an “inspiration” and “greatly uplifting” if Ukraine win, he said.
– ‘Life goes on no matter what’ –
Dykhan spoke to AFP outside Kyiv’s Olympiysky stadium.
The 70,000-seat arena hosted the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid just four years ago but now stands empty, with few people passing by its closed entry gates.
Ukraine’s capital was largely spared the fate of some eastern and northern cities largely destroyed by fighting, and life has slowly returned to normal after Russian troops retreated from outside the city.
But a daily curfew from 11 pm means fans will likely only be able to catch the first half of the game in a pub, and will have to watch the rest at home.
But even if forced to watch from their couches, the game will offer Ukrainians some sense of normality.
“Life goes on no matter what, no matter what happens around you,” a 67-year-old scientist, Andriy Ganchuk, said.
Ukraine struggled to find warm-up partners in a rigid international calendar and have played only two friendly games ahead of the game with Scotland.
Artem Frankov, a Kyiv-based football analyst, admitted this could be a problem for Ukraine but still believed they are able to win.
He said the match is “significant” for the team as Ukraine have only qualified for the World Cup once since they began playing as an independent nation, in 2006.
“We all perfectly understand how important this is for a country at war,” Frankov said.
“Including for those who are on the frontline, fighting the invaders and risking their lives.”
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