CARDIFF — Ukraine’s football team lost to Wales 1-0 Sunday, dashing the war-torn country’s hopes of making it to the World Cup in Qatar and disappointing fans who said following the team had brought distraction and joy to the country amid Russia’s invasion.
The game at Cardiff City Stadium was the final game to decide the remaining European spot in the tournament this winter, and was only Ukraine’s second competitive match since the invasion began on February 24. The results mean Wales will head to the World Cup for the first time in 64 years, joined by England, the U.S. and Iran, among others.
The winning goal for Wales — an own goal by Ukraine winger Andriy Yarmolenko, who headed a free-kick from Gareth Bale into his team’s own net — was particularly devastating for Ukraine fans.
“We don’t deserve this,” said Petro, a Ukraine fan who had traveled down from York to watch the match with his mother. “At the final whistle, it was just silent. Ukrainian people have been through so much, and now this.”
A group of dejected supporters draped in Ukrainian flags outside the stadium said at full time they were disappointed by the result.
“We’re sad. We’re very sad,” said one supporter who had traveled down from London for the game.
Ukrainian ace Oleksandr Zinchenko, who also plays for Manchester City in the Premier League, had said before the game it was his “dream” to reach the World Cup finals. He said after the match he felt sorry for the supporters who had followed the team.
“I feel sorry as well for them and supporters from around the world who supported us. You cannot blame the players, every one of them gave everything on the pitch,” he told Sky Sports. “But that’s football, it can happen.
“Everyone needs to live in peace,” he added. “We need to stop the war altogether, you never know what is going to happen. Today is Ukraine, but tomorrow, Russian aggression can be with your country.”
Some 2,000 Ukrainian fans made the journey to Cardiff for the match after their team beat Scotland in a decisive 3-1 win on Wednesday in the play-off semi-final.
Two Ukrainian fans, Yulia and Ana, 25 and 24 respectively, said Sunday’s game was their first-ever football match.
“We are just glad to be here and support Ukraine in any case. Winning or not doesn’t matter. We’re just happy to be here and feel the atmosphere,” Yulia said.
The pair, who moved to Cardiff from Kharkiv a week ago, said they had appreciated support from Welsh fans.
“We were really impressed by the support from Wales. I was crying,” Yulia said.
Meanwhile, Wales fans said they were thrilled to get to their first World Cup since 1958.
“I’m ecstatic, to be honest,” said Rhys Morgan, 29, from Llanelli in south Wales. “We’re such a small nation. To be up there with the big boys is amazing.”
He added: “Especially this weekend with the [queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebration], we’re often ignored completely as a nation within the U.K. Little old Wales, who are a footnote for the government in Westminster … it’s really special.”