Culture, Travel & Sport

Ukrainian football finds success despite hardships

Ukraine’s under-21s reached the semi-finals of the European Championships, qualifying, in the process, for next year’s Olympic Games.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its eighteenth month, the war has been devastating. Just recently, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence and Ukrainian Ministry of Health have warned Ukrainian residents of a potential Russian attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

If something were to occur at the station, it would be the latest travesty caused by the Russians. The Russian Federation has already killed thousands of Ukrainians, ruined Ukraine’s environment and agriculture, and destroyed countless villages and cities.

No one knows when the war will end. Russia’s invasion has been devastating, and the aggressors show no signs of easing up. Despite these hardships, Ukrainians have tried to turn to entertainment and other activities to try and find good news in an otherwise difficult period. One of these avenues has been through football.

Last month, the Ukrainian senior men’s national team participated in an international friendly against Germany. Thousands of supporters gathered in Bremen to cheer their national teams. Proceeds from the match were donated to aid the “victims of Russia’s war in Ukraine.” The match ended in an entertaining 3-3 draw, and both the German and Ukrainian players expressed solidarity with Ukraine during this trying time.

Following the friendly, Ukraine faced North Macedonia and Malta in two competitive matches. The two games were qualification games for next summer’s European Championships. During this period, the Ukrainians overcame their opposition and earned six valuable points. The results mean that Ukraine is now second in its qualification group. Should Ukraine continue on this trajectory, this would mean that the Ukrainians would qualify directly for their fourth consecutive European Championship. This would be a fantastic achievement, especially as the Russian invasion continues.

The under-21s

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Under-21 team has also earned impressive results. Currently, Ukraine is competing at the Under-21 European Championships. The Ukrainians were placed in a group with Spain, Croatia, and Romania. During the group stage, Ukraine defeated Romania and Croatia, and these results meant that Ukraine would advance to the competition’s knockout stages. In their third match, the Ukrainians drew with Spain. The result meant that the Ukrainians would face France in the competition’s quarter-final.

Ukraine then made history as they defeated the French. Many had predicted the French to advance, but the Ukrainians showed their talent and composure throughout the game. France scored the first goal, and the Ukrainians responded with three of their own. The Ukrainian victory meant the Ukrainians would advance to the competition’s semi-final. There, they once again faced Spain, this time losing.

Despite that defeat, there was an additional reason to cheer. Having advanced to the semi-final, the International Olympic Committee announced that the Ukrainians had also qualified for the 2024 Olympic Games. “According to the qualification criteria,” a statement said by the IOC, “[Ukraine, Israel, and Spain earned] quotas to the upcoming Olympic Games. It is the first time the Ukrainians will compete in football at the Olympic Games. In other words, a new milestone had been achieved.

In the grand scheme, the recent successes of the Ukrainian senior men’s national team and Ukrainian Under-21 men’s national team may appear to be minuscule compared to the grotesque events occurring during Russia’s unjust and horrific war. But these performances have given Ukrainians a reason to cheer and support their country in an otherwise difficult period.

Football will not help end the war. But these events have helped change the mindsets of Ukrainians, even if it is only for a brief moment. For now, this has made a difference.

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