World Cup play-off semi-final
Scotland ready for emotional roller-coaster
Emotion will be thick in the air tonight at Hampden Park as Scotland look to take a major step towards the World Cup finals in Qatar by defeating a Ukraine team which is riding on the wave of international sympathy and support.
Victory will keep the Scots’ dream alive and see them head to Cardiff to face Wales in Sunday’s winner-takes-all showdown.
But coach Steve Clarke has the unenviable task of masterminding a win over a Ukrainian team not only playing its first competitive match since the Russian invasion but one which will have the support of almost every neutral fan.
The tie has drawn a level of interest beyond the football world. The international news media will descend on the national stadium with CNN, NBC and ESPN among those represented alongside Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, Bild, L’Equipe, and The New York Times.
“Everybody is going to have their own opinion on the situation,” said Clarke. “Everyone is going to feel different about the situation.
“I want to go to the World Cup in Qatar. I have been quite clear about that from the start. This is another step on the road. My staff are desperate to go. But the most important part for me is that our players want to represent their country in Qatar at a World Cup finals.”
The Tartan Army can play a major role in tonight’s delayed play-off semi-final, said Clarke.
“The fans can be massive for us,” he said.
“We will respect the Ukrainian national anthem and we will applaud the Ukrainian national anthem. Then from there they have to sing their hearts out, get behind the team and drive the team on.”
Ukrainian star Oleksandr Zinchenko broke down in tears as he reflected on what victory would mean for his country.
He said: “Every Ukrainian wants one thing – to stop this war. I have spoken with people from all around the world, from different countries, and also some Ukrainian kids, who just don’t understand what is happening back in Ukraine.
“They only want the war to stop. They have one dream – to stop the war. A lot of countries maybe don’t understand that today is Ukraine, tomorrow could be you. So that’s why we need to be united and defeat this Russian aggression all together.
“When it comes to football, the Ukrainian team have their own dream: we want to go to the World Cup. We want to give incredible emotions to the Ukrainian people because Ukrainians deserve it so much at this very moment.
“We can speak a lot but we need to do it on the pitch. We are going to try to make them happy and proud.
“Our mood, I would describe as a fighting mood, because everyone understands what is going on in Ukraine these days, what the situation is like on the ground.
“That’s why I would say our motivation is definitely 100 per cent to win.”