Ukraine come from behind to keep a nation under siege very much alive

June 21 – Bringing a brief moment of joy to its war-torn people at home, Ukraine’s national team rallied to complete a dramatic 2-1 comeback against Slovakia with an 80th-minute winner from substitute Roman Yaremchuk.

Ukraine’s players each had a national flag tied around their shoulders as they entered the field.

The team remains keenly aware that the further they go in the tournament the more they can draw attention again to their country’s plight and the invasion by Russia.

On the streets of Dusseldorf, Ukraine displayed a destroyed stand of a Kharkiv stadium as a reminder of the destruction by the war not just to society at large, but also to the sports and football communities. Some Ukrainian fans marched to the stadium.

Opponents Slovakia have not been without their own political turmoil after the shooting of Robert Fico, the country’s pro-Russia Prime Minister.

Sergei Rebrov’s men were focused on immediate survival in the tournament after their 3-0 drubbing by Romania. No one is entirely sure what Ukraine’s participation in this tournament means, but at least Ukraine wanted to bring some relief to people back home.

Ivan Schranz celebrates Slovakia’s first goal

From the kickoff, the Ukrainians looked nervous and soon they were overwhelmed by Slovakia, who applied the intensity and composure of their shock 1-0 win against Belgium. On the left channel, Lukas Haraslin slalomed past the opposing defence and Ivan Schranz prompted a good save from Trubin.

Schranz caused the Ukrainian rearguard all kinds of problems and in the 17th minute, he headed home after Oleksandr Zinchenko didn’t check his shoulder.

It was Schranz’s second of the tournament, but Trubin should have done better. The goal had been coming and Ukraine’s defending was simply sloppy. In fact, the match did not feel like a contest. Rebrov’s side had too little quality and end product.

After the 30-minute mark, Ukraine grew into the match. Oleksandr Tymchyk shot across Martin Dubravka who tipped the ball onto the woodwork. Mykhaylo Mudryk, Ukraine’s most expensive player ever, kept the Slovakian defence busy, but the Chelsea player hesitated to seize a 37th-minute opportunity in the box. Oleksandr Zinchenko whipped in a free-kick from the right that Dubravka palmed away.

Stanislav Lobotka of Slovakia under pressure from Mykhailo Mudryk

At the other end, Haraslin remained a scourge, tearing Tymchyk apart. At half-time, Slovakia enjoyed a deserved lead.

But almost out of nothing, Ukraine equalised. Slovakia were dispossessed in Ukraine’s half, allowing Mudryk to drive forward and pick out Zinchenko on the left-hand side, whose excellent square pass teed up Mykola Shaparenko, 1-1.

Rebrov’s team had gained the upper hand and the thousands of Ukrainian fans rallied behind their eleven. Zinchenko responded by demanding more noise from them. Chants of ‘Україна, Україна’ rolled down from the stands.

The Slovakians needed to find their composure again. Manager Francesco Calzona responded by taking off both David Hancko and Haraslin, who had been so effective in the first half. It was a strange decision, but the momentum, with Slovakia simply looking drained, was with Ukraine. They bossed the second half.

Lukas Haraslin keeps Ukraine’s Illia Zabarnyi at bay

Roman Yaremchuk failed to tee up Mudryk properly, but the substitute made amends in the 80th minute.

Shaparenko’s long ball over the top fell to Yaremchuk, who, in behind Milan Skriniar, took a deft touch and steered the ball with a little nudge past Dubravka.

It was a wonderful moment for Ukraine and prompted bedlam in the Ukrainian end of the stadium. In the closing stages, the Ukrainians slowed down the play to keep Slovakia at bay, keeping everyone behind the ball.

Ukraine’s second-half comeback was built on team spirit and good game management. They had everything to play for and, in the end, delivered with bravura, uniting a nation and keeping their tournament dreams very much alive.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1721239115labto1721239115ofdlr1721239115owedi1721239115sni@i1721239115tnuk.1721239115ardni1721239115mas1721239115