Quick Bit: Ukraine is at war and still under attack after an invasion by Russia and football has been placed on hold. But the country mounted a heroic bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, falling short at the final hurdle.

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While it is far from the most consequential aspect of the conflict, Ukrainian domestic football came to a standstill after Russia’s invasion of the country in February 2022. But on June 5 the sport will have the chance to help bring some respite to a nation under attack.

Months after the invasion, Ukraine is one match away from qualifying for the 2022 men’s World Cup in Qatar as its national team, which had been training in Slovenia in the lead-up, heads to Wales for a June 5 single-elimination match that could serve to lift the spirits of a nation at war.

Before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine had earned a place in Europe’s World Cup playoffs after finishing second in their qualifying group behind defending World Cup champions France. They were drawn against Scotland for the first playoff match, with the game originally set to be played on March 24.

However, after a request from the Ukrainian camp, the game was postponed to June 1. Ukraine put forth a strong performance to beat Scotland 3-1 on its home turf in Glasgow and advanced to face Wales on Sunday, June 5 in a playoff final. A berth into Group B of the Qatar World Cup will be at stake in that match. The tournament in Qatar starts five months later in November.

Russia was similarly supposed to play in the World Cup playoffs, but world governing body FIFA banned Russia from taking part in World Cup 2022. The Russians were due to face Poland in the qualifying playoffs, but FIFA instead gave Poland a bye into the next round, where they beat Sweden and qualified to the 2022 World Cup.

MORE: How to watch Wales vs. Ukraine on June 5

Can Ukraine qualify for the World Cup?

Ukraine has to win two matches to qualify for the World Cup. It already took care of the first hurdle by beating Scotland on June 1. Now it needs to beat Wales on June 5 to clinch a spot in Group B with the USA, England and Iran.

Both matches against Scotland and Wales are single-elimination: A draw after 90 minutes will require extra time and potentially penalty kicks to ensure there’s a winner.

Ukraine had barely qualified for the World Cup playoffs, finishing a single point above Finland in Group D of UEFA World Cup qualifying. A 2-1 win away to the Finns in October 2021 was the critical result for Ukraine.

After it was clear that Ukraine would not be in position to field a team as early as March, FIFA, UEFA and the Scottish football authorities worked together to ensure that Ukraine would have every opportunity to compete for its place in the World Cup despite the trying times faced by the country.

The playoffs were originally slated for March 24, but they were rescheduled to June, giving Ukraine more time to sort out whether it could manage to field a team.

With the World Cup scheduled to take place in November, the June 2022 window made for the most obvious window to fulfill the playoff fixtures as long as Ukraine could manage to assemble a squad.

Ukraine international fixture schedule

Date
Opponent
Location
Competition
Wed, June 1
at Scotland
Glasgow, Scotland
World Cup Qualifying Playoff Semifinal
Sun, June 5
at Wales
Cardiff, Wales
World Cup Qualifying Playoff Final
Wed, June 8
at Republic of Ireland
Dublin, Ireland
UEFA Nations League
Sat, June 11
vs. Armenia
TBD
UEFA Nations League
Tues, June 14
vs. Republic of Ireland
TBD
UEFA Nations League
Wed, Sept. 21
at Scotland
Scotland
UEFA Nations League
Sat, Sept. 24
at Armenia
Armenia
UEFA Nations League
Tues, Sept. 27
vs. Scotland
TBD
UEFA Nations League

Does Ukraine have a team?

Ukraine called up 26 players in a bid to qualify for the World Cup, and the players based with Ukrainian clubs were given special dispensation to gather and train in Slovenia in the months prior to the World Cup playoffs.

Ukraine also has several international stars based abroad who were in action for their clubs during the recently concluded 2021-22 season. The Premier League is home to West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko, Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and Everton’s Vitaliy Mykolenko, while Ruslan Malinovskyi and Viktor Kovalenko both play in Italy’s Serie A.

However, 16 members of the Ukraine squad are based closer to home, with a large number on the books at Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv. The local league not only suspended activity, but players were also forced to cope with war.

The wife of Andriy Pyatov, the veteran goalkeeper with more than 100 caps for his country, recounted how the family had to flee Kyiv as hostilities broke out. He is part of the squad facing Scotland and Wales.

Shakhtar’s Viktor Kornienko, who has two caps for his country, reportedly joined the efforts to repel the Russian invasion by signing up with the Ukranian armed forces. It is not clear whether he made himself available to be called up and train, but he was not on the June squad list.

Originally found on Sporting News Read More

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