Scotland to face Ukraine as the teams vie for a World Cup play-off final against Wales
Scotland will face Ukraine at Hampden Park today as both teams vie for a play-off final against Wales in Cardiff on Sunday.
For Scotland, it is a game that could take the men’s team one step closer to the dream of a place in the World Cup finals.
But for opponents Ukraine, the match comes against the nightmare backdrop of war, following the Russian invasion.
The Tartan Army was originally set to play the Ukrainians in March, but after Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into the country in a failed attempt to storm its capital, Fifa agreed to delay the game until June.
Now with the rearranged match about to take place, Scotland fans will be hoping to cheer skipper Andy Robertson and his team on to a sensational victory – while at the same time realising that much of the rest of the world will want to see a Ukraine victory to provide some cheer to the Eastern European nation more than three months on from the Russian invasion.
Someone who knows the turmoil unleashed on Ukraine better than many is Steven Carr, the chairman of Dnipro Kids, who has helped bring dozens of children to the safety of Scotland.
“I would love Scotland to win because Scotland has been deprived of a big championship for a long time,” said the 54-year-old.
“But it’s going to be a bittersweet victory if we do win because, obviously, everybody is 100% behind Ukraine with what’s going on and I don’t think anybody would be too disappointed if Scotland did get beat and Ukraine went onto qualify for the World Cup.
“I don’t think anybody in Scotland would be overly perturbed by that situation. It’ll be a disappointment, but well done to Ukraine and all the best in qualifying.”
Whoever comes out on top of Wales, Scotland and Ukraine will be in the group stages with England, Iran and the United States when the contest is held in Qatar later this year.
Stephan Luczka, a third generation Ukrainian in the UK, is hoping manager Andriy Shevchenko will be able to lead his men to Cardiff and beyond.
“Yes, politics and sport shouldn’t mix and there’s more important things of the war going on at the minute, but it would be a massive uplift for the country and its soldiers,” he said.
And the 34-year-old said most of the world would be backing the Ukrainians.
“The match itself I think every football fan in the world, who isn’t Scottish, will be supporting Ukraine,” he said.
“That’s nothing against Scotland, it’s just the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in for this match, one which, hopefully, will never have to happen again in such a unique circumstance.”
But Scotland fan Ally Morrison said although support of much of the world is behind Ukraine, the game should be seen in isolation.
“It’s a sporting event, it would be disrespectful to the Ukrainian team to treat it as anything different because they are a team of athletes as well and they would want to be treated as a team of athletes,” said the 29-year-old.
“Following the buzz of making it to Euro 2020 a couple of years ago, there’s a new buzz about the Scotland team and Scotland in general now, and I think it’s one of these games where if we win it sets up a final against our Great British rivals, Wales, which is another huge occasion and a massive opportunity to get to a World Cup we haven’t been to since 1998.”
When national teams represent their country, it brings often divided football fans together.
But for Scotsman Clark Gillies and his Ukrainian wife Victoria they will be heading to Hampden Park together before going into different ends of the ground ahead of the match which will determine which country will play Wales in Cardiff for a spot in the World Cup finals.
“I think all Ukrainians will want any kind of victory, like Eurovision or anything, Ukraine winning is kind of a step closer for winning the war against Russia,” said 40-year-old Mrs Gillies.
“I think there will be a great atmosphere, even to meet all the Ukrainians just to talk to them, just to share something Ukrainian, and for a moment I’ll be feeling like I’ll be back at home. So there’ll be a great atmosphere and great experience for all of us. So I think it will be great.”
The couple met each other when Scotland were playing away in Lithuania in 2003, and married three years later.
They have two children together, Nicole, nine, and Charlotte, five.
While their children are not too interested in football, and Mrs Gillies is set to cheer on Ukraine, Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal secretary Mr Gillies is hoping for a Scotland win.
He said: “The fact there’s a game, I think that’s the main thing because a few short weeks ago I think everyone would have said ‘no, the game’s not going to happen, Scotland are going to get a bye and play Wales in the final’.
“But the fact Ukraine are able to get a team now and are able to play is a major thing.”
Looking ahead to kick-off, Mr Gillies said it promised to be a good game.
“(Ukraine) want to show the world and show Russia that they’re not going to back down quietly,” he said.
But, Mr Gillies added, Scotland could do it.
“We had a good end to last year when we beat Denmark in Glasgow and did well on the road a couple of times and did really well at home.”
He added his thoughts on the result changed by the hour, but said: “I do think it will be a low-scoring victory for one team or the other. Maybe even go to extra time and penalties more likely.”
But his wife is much more confident on who will come out on top and advance to the next stage.
“I think it will be two zero to Ukraine,” she said.
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