Ukraine’s players wept in the rain while applauding their dejected supporters after missing out on qualifying for the World Cup by losing 1-0 to Wales in Europe’s last playoff for the FIFA soccer showpiece on Sunday.
The agonizing moment in a tight game came in the 34th minute when Andriy Yarmolenko inadvertently headed the ball into his own net while trying to clear Wales captain Gareth Bale’s free kick.
While Wales heads to a first World Cup in 64 years — opening against the United States in November — this was a game too far for Ukraine’s emotionally charged mission to qualify for Qatar while remaining under invasion by Russia.
“We did everything that we could,” coach Oleksandr Petrakov said through a translator,” but I really want the people of Ukraine to remember our team’s efforts.”
Petrakov’s priority, once the World Cup dream had been extinguished, was ensuring the suffering at home is not forgotten by the world.
“We have war raging all over the country,” Petrakov said. “We have children and women dying on a daily basis. Our infrastructure is being ruined by Russian barbarians. The Russians want to hurt us, but the Ukrainians are resisting and defending their land. We just want your support. We just want to you to understand what is happening back home.”
Wales end 64-year wait for World Cup return
The 1-0 win over war-disrupted Ukraine on Sunday, secured in the 34th minute in the Cardiff downpour, was enough to send Wales back to the World Cup as the country with the longest gap between qualifications for the FIFA showpiece – 64 years.
“It’s the greatest result in the history of Welsh football,” said Welsh captain Gareth Bale. “I’m just delighted we are going to a World Cup. It means everything, it’s what dreams are made of. I’m speechless. I’m so glad we’ve done it for these amazing fans.”
Bale was one of those spectators for the remaining 10 minutes or so after being substituted when his body could offer no more.
“It was difficult,” Bale said. “I haven’t played too much football these last three or four weeks because of my back spasm, but the most important thing was to get through. I give my all. I was running on empty.”
The trip to Qatar gives Bale – British soccer’s most decorated foreign export at Real Madrid – a chance to finally play on the sport’s biggest stage.
But the five-time Champions League winner is without a club for next season after being released by Madrid.
Midfielder Aaron Ramsey summed up the win by saying “It’s unbelievable – little old Wales at the World Cup.”