Ukraine raise country’s spirits with Euro 2024 qualification

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Agency :
Ukraine’s qualification for Euro 2024 on Tuesday has cheered a country suffering hardship in its conflict with Russia, and for a few weeks in June and July the tournament will provide a welcome distraction from war.

The team came from behind to defeat Iceland 2-1 in their play-off final in neutral Poland and book a fourth successive appearance in the Finals. They are in Group E with Belgium, Slovakia and Romania.

Russia’s war with Ukraine has now entered a third year and, despite heavy casualties on both sides, it shows no sign of coming to an end so this is at least something positive for the many affected.

“I am very proud to be a Ukrainian, to be of the same blood as those who are now giving their lives for our freedom,” Captain Oleksandr Zinchenko said after the win.

“We need to talk about it, shout about it every day. This is the only way we can win. It was one of our most emotional games. It is an amazing feeling. I am very happy because it is another dream come true.

“A big thank you to our fans, they helped us through these difficult times amazingly.”

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Coach Serhiy Rebrov said in the build-up to the match that it was hard for his team to concentrate on football.
“The missiles are flying every day.

Our mission is to show that we’re all alive and fighting against the Russians and that we need Europe’s support,” he said.

He also hailed the “character of our players and our nation” to keep going in a qualifying campaign where, as refugees from the war themselves, Ukraine have staged “home” matches spread across Europe.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a message: “Thank you boys! Thank you to the team! For proving once again that when Ukrainians face challenges but refuse to give up and continue the fight, they invariably win.”

There was some poetic irony that Poland, where the team’s mission was successfully completed, currently has the largest concentration of Ukrainian refugees of any country.

Chants of “Ukraine, Ukraine” rang around the stadium, the scenes of jubilation and yellow and blue flags waving not far removed from what might be expected if the game was in Kyiv.

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