Before the sporting final in extremely stressful times, Ukraine’s most prominent footballer sent a message to everyone. “This team showed character and fighting spirit – great! A decisive match in Wroclaw is coming up. Give everything so that we reach the goal,” wrote Andriy Shevchenko on Instagram.

The former world-class striker was at a European Championship for Ukraine in 2012 as a player, in 2016 as an assistant coach and in 2021 as head coach. Shevchenko is now president of the association and is hoping for a ray of hope in sports in the midst of the Russian war of aggression.

A win in the playoff final on Tuesday (8:45 p.m./DAZN) against Iceland – and Ukraine would qualify for the European Championship finals for the fourth time in a row. The thrilling 2-1 win in the semi-final against Bosnia-Herzegovina last Thursday showed how the dramatic situation at home is affecting the national team. The night before the game, the country suffered one of the worst attacks since the start of the war.

Signs of life in times of war

“The rockets fly every day. Our mission is to show that we are all alive and fighting against the Russians and that we need the support of Europe,” said national coach Serhiy Rebrov after the victory in which his team lost 0-1. The deficit only turned around in the final phase. Football as a sign of life in times of war: That’s what Rebrow says these days are all about. “This game showed the character of our players and our nation,” said the head coach after the victory in Zenica.

But for playmaker Heorhij Sudakov, the sporting mission is not yet accomplished. Now the last step should also be successful. “In these difficult times, qualification would be important to bring joy to our people,” said Sudakov. Bringing joy to the people, encouraging our own soldiers, playing for peace: the professionals from the hard-hit country had already emphasized their own role during the entire qualification process.

Home game atmosphere in Germany too?

At the final in the Polish city, Ukraine, which cannot play any games in its own country, can expect a home game atmosphere. “We count on the support of our fans in Wroclaw,” said striker Danylo Sikan. “I’m sure there will be a full stadium there, everyone is waiting for the game,” added head coach Rebrow.

According to the UN, Poland has taken in the most refugees from Ukraine, which was attacked by Russia, after Germany. If qualification is achieved, there could also be home games in Germany in the summer. The general dates for this case have already been determined: Ukraine would be challenged against Romania in Munich on June 17th, against Slovakia in Düsseldorf on June 21st and against Belgium in Stuttgart on June 26th.

Ukraine clearly favored

Since the beginning of the war, Ukrainian footballers have had two opportunities to qualify for a major tournament. In June 2022, the team lost the World Cup playoff final against Wales and thus missed a ticket to the tournament in Qatar in Cardiff. In November 2023, direct qualification for the European Championship would have been possible with a win against defending champion Italy. But in Leverkusen it was only enough for a 0-0 draw. Now the chances are much better, Ukraine is clearly favored due to the quality of play.

After 2016, when they sensationally made it to the quarter-finals as a crowd favorite, Iceland would like to go back to the European Championships and recently impressed with a clear 4-1 win in the semi-finals against Israel. “They are disciplined and they are physically better prepared than the Bosnians. Iceland knows exactly what they have to do, so they have been getting good results for a long time,” said Juchym Konoplja, according to the Football24 portal. The defender warned: “We have to prepare better than for the game against Bosnia-Herzegovina.”