Ukraine manager Oleksandr Petrakov dedicated his side’s 3-1 win over Scotland to reach a World Cup playoff final to those fighting in the trenches of his war-torn homeland.
In their first competitive match since Ukraine was invaded by Russia, Andriy Yarmolenko, Roman Yaremchuk and Artem Dovbyk scored the goals to set up a clash away to Wales on Sunday for a place in Qatar later this year.
“This victory was not for me or for the team members, it was for our country. This was a huge victory for Ukraine,” said Petrakov.
“They did everything for the people they play for, the Ukrainians.
“For the people watching them back home: the armed forces in the trenches, the people working in the hospitals. They say thank you to us and we say thank you to them.”
The match had been moved from March, just weeks after the war began, to give Ukraine the chance to fulfil the fixture.
Six of the starting line-up for the visitors are still contracted to Ukrainian clubs and had not played competitively for months.
Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko broke down in tears on the eve of the game as he described how much it would mean to take Ukraine to the World Cup.
But led by the exceptional Zinchenko, they showed no signs of rust or letting the expectation of a nation weigh heavily on their shoulders.
“We played for those who fight in trenches, who fight with their last drop of blood. We played for Ukrainians who suffer every day,” added Petrakov.
“We still have the Wales game in front of us. We will do everything to make Ukrainians proud.”
The Ukrainian players entered the field draped in yellow and blue flags before an emotionally-charged national anthem which was applauded from all sides of the stadium.
Among the Ukranian support, children held up signs saying “stop war.”
However, once the action got underway, it was the small band of travelling supporters who had far more to cheer.
Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon kept his side in the game early on with stunning saves to deny Viktor Tsygankov and Yarmolenko.
Ukraine’s greater poise and technical ability soon told, though, as from Ruslan Malinovskyi’s through ball, Yarmolenko’s perfect control allowed him to lob the onrushing Gordon to make it 1-0 just after the half-hour mark.
Scotland had been unbeaten in eight games, but rarely threatened a response to keep alive their hopes of reaching a first World Cup since 1998.
“Unfortunately, it’s passed us by,” said Scotland captain Andy Robertson. “After a really positive campaign, we’ve let ourselves down tonight.”
Within four minutes of the second half, Scotland’s mountain to climb got even steeper when Benfica striker Yaremchuk headed in Oleksandr Karavayev’s cross to the back post.
The hosts finally flickered into life to appease a frustrated sell-out crowd of 50 000 at Hampden Park in the final quarter.
John McGinn somehow headed wide from point-blank range after Georgiy Bushchan spilled Scott McTominay’s cross.
Another Bushchan error then did give Scotland a lifeline 11 minutes from time when Callum McGregor’s strike slipped through his grasp and just crossed the line before the defender could clear.
The Scots, though, lacked imagination in their search for an equaliser as Ukraine repelled a flurry of long balls.
Dovbyk then broke clear in the final seconds to put the seal on an emotional win by smashing home at Gordon’s near post. – Super Sport.