Ukraine vs England becomes a game of symbolic character

Ukraine vs England becomes a game of symbolic character

EIt was officially about qualifying for the 2024 European Championships in Germany, but it mostly felt like a friendly match: when England’s national football team died early on Sunday evening Ukraine received, the trappings always outweighed what was happening on the lawn of Wembley Stadium.

All the more so after Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka gave the English a 2-0 lead just before half-time, and the Ukrainians weren’t really able to shake the game until the end of the game. England tops Italy in Group C with two wins from two games; Ukraine will only play their second group game against North Macedonia in June.

Arrival becomes an odyssey

Anything but an English victory would have been a sensation. England is fifth in the FIFA world rankings, Ukraine is 26th. In addition, the Ukrainian players who live and play football in their homeland have had a real odyssey in their bones: there because of the Russian invasion of passenger air traffic in Ukraine exposed, they could not even just fly to London, but first had to make their way to neighboring Poland by train and bus.

Some players and supervisors are said to have been on the road for a total of 16 hours. Far from ideal for fitness, but interim coach Ruslan Rotan wanted no sympathy. After all, his squad is in London to play a football game while the soldiers are fighting Russian troops at home.

Against the background of the war, which has now lasted more than a year, the game has become a symbol of cohesion. Countless blue and yellow flags could be seen around the stadium and in the stands; Altogether there were around 4200 Ukrainians among the 85,000 spectators.

“Our soldiers pay for it”

The English Football Association (FA) had given 1,000 free tickets to Ukrainian refugees and their British host families – more than 117,000 Ukrainians displaced by the war are currently in Great Britain. “These are not free tickets for me,” a woman named Liliia told the BBC. “Our soldiers pay for them.”

Peter Revko of the Union of Ukrainians in Britain thanked the FA for the gesture and the host families for their kindness and compassion, which allowed the refugees to “escape Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine”. Sports Minister Stuart Andrew promised: “We will do what we can to support all those who have been displaced by Putin’s illegal war.”

Some Ukrainian fans in the stadium showed concrete political demands on placards and banners on Sunday. A Ukrainian flag read “No time to wait – we need F-16”: No time to wait, we need F-16. In January, Great Britain and the USA refused to supply the Ukrainian military with the corresponding fighter jets, probably also to avoid further escalation through Putin’s provocation.

Meanwhile, critical voices recalled that in the past, English football has willingly sided with Russia. The Guardian wrote that Chelsea only became one of the most successful clubs in England thanks to the billions raised by oligarch Roman Abramovich.

And at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, then FA boss Greg Clarke was full of effusive praise for the hosts, even though Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula was already a political reality.

Despite the defeat in London, Ukraine can still qualify for Euro 2024. The second leg between Ukraine and England is scheduled to take place in September; then probably in Poland, where the team played their previous “home games” in the UEFA Nations League as a substitute. From today’s perspective, a return to the Olympic Stadium in Kiev is hardly imaginable.

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