Thursday, June 30, 2022

USMNT to play winner of Ukraine vs. Wales UEFA playoff in 2022 World Cup opener

Ukraine will face Wales for a place at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar after a 3-1 win over Scotland at Hampden Park set up Sunday’s playoff clash in Cardiff. Andriy Yarmolenko, Roman Yaremchuk and Artem Dovbyk were on target for the Ukrainians on an emotional night in Glasgow as the country played its first competitive match since Russia’s invasion earlier this year.

The United States men’s national team will take great interest in this weekend’s result with the winner between Wales and Ukraine going into Group B along with England and Iran. However, of specific importance to the U.S. is the fact that whoever it is will be their first opponents in Al Rayyan come Nov. 21.

On the field in Scotland, the Ukrainians wasted little time in asserting their superiority with their Scottish hosts unable to get into the game. Oleksandr Petrakov’s men took the lead through Yarmolenko when he chipped in from Ruslan Malinovskiy’s assist after 33 minutes.

Just four minutes into the second half and it was 2-0 with Yaremchuk heading home from Oleksandr Karavaev’s ball in. Craig Gordon had already made several saves to ensure that the visitors did not take the lead at 0-0 and Ukraine’s organization and fitness levels appeared to take Scotland by surprise.

Considering that six of the away starting XI are domestic-based players, they have barely seen action this season and still managed to rise to the occasion as part of a magnificent team effort. It was reminiscent of the impressive collective approach under Andriy Shevchenko which saw the Ukrainians reach the UEFA Euro 2020 quarterfinals before going out to eventual finalists England.

Callum McGregor managed to sneak an effort over the line with 11 minutes to go to give the Tartan Army hope, but it was not to be as Ukraine held on for victory having been denied a third goal by the Celtic man. Despite the late home rally, the 3,500 traveling fans were jubilant on a memorable night for the Blue and Yellow which was completed when Oleksandr Zinchenko teed up Dovbyk to secure the result and rapturous applause from the home crowd.

“To be fair, obviously everyone knows the situation in Ukraine,” said an emotional Zinchenko post-match. “Every single game for us is like a final game. But we dream like a team to be at the World Cup, and we have one more game, one more final, and we need to win it, we need to take it, otherwise this game is not going to mean anything. 

“We played quite well, apart from maybe 20 minutes in the second half. Scotland is a great team. They play an open game, not our style, but we did well, scoring three goals and we could have scored another. Wales is going to be a massive game for us. We need to show the best performance in our lives, and we’ll see what will happen.”

Ukraine or Wales will start their World Cup campaign against the USMNT before taking on Iran at the same Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium and finish Group B with England. Gregg Berhalter’s men are up against the Three Lions second before closing the pool against the Iranians (full USMNT schedule here). Click here for the complete World Cup fixture list.

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