In a pulse-pounding game, Ukraine have beaten Scotland 1-3 at Hampden Park to keep their World Cup dream alive.
The win sends Ukraine into a play-off against Wales this coming Sunday, with the winner heading to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar this November and continuing a quite incredible story of triumph against adversity.
Ukraine as a nation is currently still mired in suffering after the Russian invasion and occupation earlier this year, an invasion that caused this game to be delayed from back in March. Now they have been able to play it, Ukraine have delivered the most fantastical result.
Not just result, but performance too. For an hour or so Ukraine were absolutely melting Scotland, driving through them with glorious football. In truth they should have had more than the two goals they got.
Though both goals were of the utmost quality. The second goal, coming just minutes into the second-half was a towering back-post header from striker Roman Yaremchuk as he buried Oleksandr Karavaev’s cross was the kind of goal any Scot would have been proud of scoring.
The first strike, however, was dripping in pure quality. The kind of thing Scotland used to do in their pomp 40 years ago; turning a routine long pass over the top from Ruslan Malinovskyi into a moment of sheer art as Andriy Yarmolenko brought the ball down with a touch soft enough that a baby could wear it and then, in almost the same movement, gently lofted the ball over the despairing Craig Gordon.
Kenny Dalglish may not have been happy to see that go in, but as a footballing genius he would have respected it. And you got the impression that Scotland, while upset that they didn’t make the World Cup once again, respected the way Ukraine got their win.
Andriy Yarmolenko has now scored 45 goals for his country, only three behind Andriy Shevchenko in Ukraine's all-time top goalscorers list. ⤴️⤵️
— Squawka (@Squawka) June 1, 2022
“Let’s be frank about it,” said Ally McCoist speaking on Ukraine’s win on Sky Sports’ commentary, “they deserve it.” Later adding: “the brutal facts are we were beaten by a much better team.” And he wasn’t wrong. As much as the goals were sensational, the performance was even moreso. Ukraine came into a hostile Hampden Park atmosphere and played their hungry hosts off the park.
The leading light in that win was easily Oleksandr Zinchenko. The Ukrainian midfielder is just two weeks removed from his match-winning appearance of the subs bench on the last day of the Premier League season, helping seal the title for Manchester City, Zinchenko’s fourth, and today he produced a display that Pep Guardiola would be proud of.
Zinchenko was at the heart of Ukraine’s dominance of Scotland, routinely dissecting their midfield and defence with his perceptive passes. Had his forwards taken their chances he could have had a whole bunch of assists at the end as Ukraine repeatedly failed to punish Scotland for throwing every single man forward in desperate search for an equaliser.
That is another thing: Ukraine showed both spirit and steel. Where they were deliriously dominant in the first hour for the last 30 minutes they grit their teeth and bore the full force of Scotland’s attack. They conceded one goal, just about, to Callum McGregor, but they repelled everything else and right at the death another beautiful pass from Zinchenko put Artem Dovbyk through, and eventually he stabbed home a third goal to seal things with the last kick of the game.
“I thought he was man of the match by the proverbial mile,” said Ally McCoist, adding the Man City man was “absolutely outstanding.” And Zinchenko also showed the elite mentality he has picked up, as he was not celebrating and was already focusing on the Wales game, saying: “we have one more game, one more final, and we have to win it. We have to win it or today means nothing.”
That may be true, but right now today’s win means absolutely everything for the people of Ukraine. It keeps hope alive.