Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) – The Ukrainians hoped for victory on the football field on Tuesday, a day before their national team played their first official match since the invasion of Russia, against Scotland in the qualifiers of the World Cup.
The Ukraine-Scotland match will take place on Wednesday in Glasgow. It was postponed from March after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24.
After three months of war, fans said a victory for their team would provide a much-needed sense of joy.
“I hope for victory,” 44-year-old soldier Andriy Veres told AFP in Kyiv.
“These days it’s very important for the country, for everyone, for everyone who is a fan and even for those who are not.”
He compared the Ukrainian team’s hope of victory to the country praying for success on the front line.
“We believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, we believe in our national football team,” said Veres, who hopes to be able to watch the game despite his military obligations.
Soccer fans in Ukraine have missed watching the sport as all games have been canceled since the Moscow attack.
The Ukrainian team trained for the World Cup qualifiers in Slovenia, as stadiums and other sports facilities were threatened by Russian shelling.
“Any event involving a peaceful life will be welcome,” Vladyslav Dykhan, a 53-year-old construction worker, told AFP.
“You can’t just focus on the war. We need a way to let off steam.
It would be “inspirational” and “very uplifting” if Ukraine won, he said.
– ‘Life goes on no matter what’ –
Dykhan spoke to AFP outside the Olympiasky Stadium in Kyiv.
The 70,000-seater arena hosted the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid just four years ago but is now empty, with few people passing through its closed entrance doors.
The Ukrainian capital was largely spared the fate of some eastern and northern towns largely destroyed by the fighting, and life slowly returned to normal after Russian troops withdrew from outside the city.
But a daily curfew from 11pm means fans will likely only be able to catch the first half of the game in a pub and will have to watch the rest at home.
But even if they are forced to watch from their couch, the game will provide Ukrainians with some sense of normalcy.
“Life goes on no matter what, no matter what happens around you,” said 67-year-old scientist Andriy Ganchuk.
Ukraine struggled to find warm-up partners in a rigid international schedule and only played two friendlies before the game against Scotland.
Kyiv-based football analyst Artem Frankov admitted it could be a problem for Ukraine but still believed they were capable of winning.
He said the game was ‘meaningful’ for the team as Ukraine have only qualified for the World Cup once since they started playing as an independent nation in 2006 .
“We all fully understand how important this is for a country at war,” Frankov said.
“Including those on the front line, fighting invaders and risking their lives.”