Date: 3rd June 2022
The SFSA’s trusted Scotland writer Ben Ramage offers us his review on the Scotland vs Ukraine fixture on Wednesday night, and the disappointment for Scotland.
Unbelievable Ukraine showcase incredible skill and spirit to dash Scotland’s World Cup dream
While results have been far improved in recent years, you can never underestimate the Scotland national team’s ability to put you through the wringer.
Alongside thousands of other Tartan Army fans, I boarded a train bound for Mount Florida hoping it wasn’t going to be yet another case of Hampden heartbreak as Steve Clarke’s men looked to book a trip of a lifetime on Wednesday night.
The build-up to this monumental World Cup play-off semi-final was understandably centred around our opponents Ukraine.
Currently invaded by Vladimir Putin’s merciless Russian war machine, the visiting squad were determined to give their under siege country something to smile about.
While nothing but an end to the war can bring about true happiness for Ukraine, victories in global sport and music events – such as Eurovision – certainly serve to boost the morale of its struggling people.
And from the very first minute at Hampden on Wednesday night, you could sense that Ukraine’s players had an extra emotional edge to their game that Scotland simply could not match.
That’s not to say the men in yellow were simply fired up by the situation back home.
That would be doing their talented squad a massive disservice.
Despite several players coming into the match with a lack of practice, on the whole the visitors showed much greater control on the ball, more commitment in the tackle and much better vision in the final third.
Indeed if it wasn’t for Craig Gordon pulling off his usual heroics, the result could well have been out of sight long before substitute Artem Dovbyk slammed home Ukraine’s third with the final kick of the ball.
Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko was inspired in midfield throughout, while former West Ham striker Andriy Yarmolenko showed all his class with a display that had Scotland’s defenders tied in knots.
Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi and Benfica’s Roman Yaremchuk also thoroughly disproved the narrative that Ukraine would be unfit and unready for Wednesday night. This was a team with a spine of talented players that have competed at the top end of Europe’s best leagues all season.
Shellshocked Scotland eventually started to knock on the door in the second half, with TA hero John McGinn presented with a sublime opportunity with the goal at his mercy and the home stands ready to erupt.
Unfortunately for him and the hosts his header sailed harmlessly wide, taking Scotland’s hopes of making it to Qatar with it.
While Callum McGregor did finally pull one back and give the Tartan Army a ray of hope to cling on to late on, ultimately anything other than a Ukraine win would have been hugely unfair on a country that is already dealing with far more important battles elsewhere.
While the taste of defeat was no less bitter than it usually is on a decisive night at Hampden, there was at least the saving grace for Scotland’s supporters that they were beaten by worthy opponents.
Ukraine are much more established at major tournaments in recent years, having reached the quarter-finals of the 2020 Euros just last year, and against so many difficult factors they called on all that experience to produce by far the better performance of the two sides.
It’s hard to begrudge them progression given the circumstances, and I truly hope they have enough energy left to repeat the feat in Cardiff on Sunday night and book a spot on the World Cup stage once again.
For Scotland it’s another case of what might have been, which at least is not this time tainted by a bad refereeing decision.
At the end of the day we were well and truly beaten on our home turf. Our key players didn’t perform to the levels they can, which makes it truly tough to stomach.
We can’t lie, it hurts like hell – again. But at least this time we can congratulate the side that beat us and truly mean it.
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