Ukraine: “There is only one club: the national team” – sport

If things had gone according to his original plans, Oleksandr Petrakov would be staying somewhere else these days. When the war of Russian aggression began, Ukraine’s national football coach recently announced that he wanted to volunteer for military service. “I’m 64 but I found it normal to do that. I think I could eliminate two or three enemies,” he told the Guardians. But a member of the Ukrainian government made him understand that it was not for him. He has no military experience and could probably be better employed elsewhere.

Instead of being deployed to the war in Ukraine, Petrakow is at a football stadium in Mönchengladbach on Wednesday night and is visibly struggling to find his words after the final whistle. “When I sang the national anthem, I had tears in my eyes. It’s great that our nation is united,” he said.

For the first time since the beginning of the war, the team from Petrakow played a match. And that 2-1 victory against Borussia Mönchengladbach was not just an evening in which speeches of solidarity and 600,000 euros in financial aid were collected for Ukraine. Above all, he also demonstrated the symbolic power that football must have. Thousands of Ukrainian fans sat in the stands below the winning team; it has been shown “that as a country we are far from lost,” Petrakow said. And at the same time this match should be the prelude to a mission: qualification for the World Cup in Qatar. At the beginning of June, it was the turn of the play-offs, first against Scotland, with a victory shortly after against Wales.

“The military ask us to do everything to qualify for the World Cup”

National coach Petrakow himself said a few weeks ago that he didn’t want to think about football and the World Cup as long as people were dying in his home country. People wouldn’t understand that either, what football this is about. Now the Russian aggression war continues, and probably many people still don’t understand what kind of football it is. But the actors do not cease to emphasize today what important function the “Schowto-blakytni” (the yellow-blue) will assume in the coming weeks.

“Many people in Ukraine love football, including many soldiers we have contact with,” Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Taras Stepanenko said, “and they ask us to do whatever we can for us. qualify for the 2022 World Cup”. Former Ukrainian national and Bundesliga striker Andrei Voronin told the microphone at the Mönchengladbach stadium that it was “very important for our national team and for our country that we (the World Cup qualification) can do this”.

He now has the task of fulfilling the big wish of the World Cup: Ukraine’s national coach, Oleksandr Petrakow.

(Photo: Federico Gambarini/dpa)

Today, football is often given such a role in beaten countries. But in Ukraine, this happens in a particular context. Football there was traditionally deeply divided. Many rival oligarchs became involved, and this reflected the country’s political lines of confrontation. Capital club Dynamo Kyiv and eastern Shakhtar Donetsk, which have shared all Ukrainian leagues since 1992/93 and also provide the majority of the national team, were seen as the popular representatives of two very different parts of the country.

Tymoshchuk is silent on the war of aggression, so he was banned for life

This changed somewhat after the Russian invasion in 2014; the Shakhtar club, for example, later moved to kyiv. But now all this should develop further and football and the national team should be the symbol of national unity. “There is a club now,” striker Roman Yaremchuk, who himself plays for Benfica, said recently: “the national team.”

Anatoly Timoschtschuk recently felt how clearly football is positioning itself. The former FC Bayern professional was, alongside Andrei Shevchenko, the central figure in Ukrainian football for years: with 144 appearances, he is the international record holder for his country. However, he now works in the coaching staff of Zenit Saint Petersburg, the club that recently won the Russian championship and is in fact a Russian state club through majority owner Gazprom. Tymoshchuk has so far remained silent about the Kremlin’s war of aggression, which is why the Ukrainian association banned him for life.

National coach Petrakow now has the task of making the big World Cup wish come true – and things will be tough. Only a few top players under overseas contract, such as Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko, have been training regularly recently as league operations in Ukraine have been suspended since late February. That’s why Petrakov has now asked players from Ukrainian clubs to take part in a training camp and three test kicks; Surprisingly, this briefly caused problems for Dynamo Kyiv president, who only wanted to let his kickers go later.

Even more serious is the pressure to play football while relatives in Ukraine are in danger. The coach himself expressed this on Wednesday when he reported on the war days he experienced in Kyiv. “It’s really hard to describe how bad this all is,” he said.


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