Wembley Stadium, London
The sight of Ukrainian flags flying alongside Wembley Manner – the street approaching the long-lasting Wembley Stadium – took on additional significance Sunday as Ukraine confronted England in its Euro 2024 qualifier.
Whereas the horrors of conflict proceed to forged a shadow over its nation, right here was the Ukrainian males’s nationwide crew dealing with probably the greatest sides on the earth on the worldwide stage.
Win or lose, the Ukrainian gamers wished to placed on a present for its followers and provide these again residence 90 minutes of respite.
Nonetheless, the crew knew it wanted one thing of a miracle to beat England at Wembley and one was not forthcoming.
Ranked 21 locations larger than Ukraine, England had an excessive amount of high quality on the pitch and its expertise shone by way of.
Objectives from England males’s all-time report goalscorer Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka was all it wanted because the 2-0 victory earned one other three factors in its qualifying marketing campaign.
Regardless of the defeat, the Ukrainian followers continued to make their voices heard as a sea of yellow and blue sang and danced in unison till the ultimate whistle – some even held messages asking for extra army support in Ukraine.
Talking to reporters after the sport, Ukraine’s caretaker supervisor Ruslan Rotan thanked followers for his or her “unimaginable wave of help.”
He additionally thanked the house crowd, including: “It was an environment in contrast to some other worldwide recreation I’ve skilled.”
In fact, the environment across the stadium began constructing hours earlier than kickoff on what began off as a chilly and wet afternoon in London.
However the grey clouds have been in stark distinction to the colourful yellow and blue flags that have been waved by, and draped over, supporters making their approach inside.
One thousand Ukrainian refugees, and the households who sponsored them within the UK, had been invited as particular company to the sport they usually have been joined by over 4,000 followers who managed to get their arms on tickets.
Regardless of being vastly outnumbered by the England trustworthy, the Ukrainians have been in wonderful voice.
And, as a lot as they acknowledged the heartbreaking backdrop to this match, many supporters simply wished to benefit from the expertise and concentrate on soccer – a distraction from the brutal actuality at residence.
“It’s the best way to remind individuals of Ukraine. To indicate the world that we’re nonetheless standing,” Ukrainian fan Oleksii Soboleva, 40, informed Sport earlier than kick off.
Soboleva and his household had moved to London six months in the past, having beforehand left Ukraine earlier than the total scale invasion final 12 months.
All of them agreed that, irrespective of the outcome, it might be an emotional night time at Wembley.
“We’re not fearful of England, although,” Marta Soboleva informed Sport, a wry smile spreading throughout her face, eyes full of pleasure.
Not removed from the place the Sobolevas spoke to Sport, a small group of Ukrainian followers had gathered on the foot of the steps main as much as the historic area.
Moments earlier, former striker and former supervisor of the Ukraine nationwide crew, Andriy Shevchenko, was amongst them doing his media duties forward of the match.
The 46-year-old had stayed to speak and take footage with supporters and joined in with chants supporting his beloved nation.
The Ukraine followers continued to benefit from the spectacle contained in the stadium, greeting their gamers with rapturous applause as they emerged onto the pitch, every with a Ukrainian flag wrapped round them.
Previous to the match, Ukraine’s boss Rotan thanked the UK for the assistance it had given his nation for the reason that begin of the conflict however promised that his aspect would put niceties apart as soon as the referee blew the primary whistle.
The Ukraine crew was true to its phrase, creating some half possibilities within the early levels and giving their passionate help one thing to cheer about – and cheer about it they did.
Whereas their crew struggled to maintain tempo with England on the pitch, Ukrainian followers inside Wembley outsang and outdanced a quite subdued English crowd off it.
For a lot of the primary half, Ukraine had really managed to maintain England at bay – throwing their our bodies on the road to cease their host from taking the lead.
However finally the strain of fixed England assaults grew to become an excessive amount of and Kane scored the opener within the thirty seventh minute after latching onto Saka’s cross.
The objective appeared to open the floodgates, with Saka himself doubling the benefit with an exquisite curled effort from exterior the field simply three minutes later.
Whereas the second half was extra of a formality, each units on followers engaged with one another in good religion. At one level, 1000’s of supporters lit up Wembley Stadium utilizing the torches on their telephone as they watched England dominate possession.
The ultimate whistle was greeted by an enormous cheer from the Ukraine part of the stands, because it serenaded its gamers who applauded the help in return.
Within the context of conflict, the results of Sunday’s match mattered little or no however this was one other instance of when sport is rather more than only a recreation.
The 90 minutes put a smile on the faces of the 1000’s of Ukraine followers contained in the stadium. It confirmed that the nation was nonetheless standing sturdy and was an indication of brighter days to come back.
And whereas many gamers will depart England dissatisfied, they are going to be proud that they’ve as soon as once more represented their nation on the worldwide stage – a robust message for a rustic nonetheless below assault.