Scotland vs Ukraine: Hampden braced themselves for a poignant and powerful opportunity

Fans display a banner in support of Ukraine amid Russian invasion
The Scottish fans are expected to show their support for Ukraine
Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow date: Wednesday 1 June Time:19:45 CET
Cover: Listen to live commentary on Sportsound and follow live text updates on the BBC Sport website and app

Hampden, in its various guises, has witnessed so many fabled events, from the world’s biggest crowds in the 1930s to the world’s biggest game in the early 1960s, when Di Stefano, Puskas and their Real Madrid colleagues turned heads in the gray Old Place Technicolor with her genius.

Kenny Dalglish Nutmeg Ray Clemence. Zinedine Zidane volleys against Leverkusen. Leigh Griffiths free-kicks against England. David Gray’s header that ended Hibs’ 114-year wait to win the Scottish Cup. Any drama under the sun. Every imaginable emotion, or so we thought.

On Wednesday, Scotland host Ukraine in a World Cup play-off semi-final some thought we’d never see. There will be 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 and variations on the theme, but other numbers will take this contest to the lowest possible level – more than 4,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed at least as much as thousands more casualties in the army.

3.6 million Ukrainians are in exile in Poland, almost a million in Romania, 700,000 in Germany, 600,000 in Hungary, half a million in Moldova and Slovakia. Almost seven millionexternal link were driven off their own land – far more than the entire population of Scotland.

The eyes of the footballing world will be on Hampden and on this night of nights they will be with Ukraine, cheering them on at every turn.

It’s a game full of political significance, a chance for their footballers to do their own small part to reinforce the message that Vladimir Putin may tear down Ukraine’s buildings, destroy its cities and kill its people, but he never will take the spirit

Putin may not care, but that’s not the point. This Ukrainian team will be desperate to put a smile on their people’s faces, if only for a little while.

Emotions will swirl through Hampden like the wind on a winter evening. Top athletes say that you have to be careful with emotions, that you can use them strongly in your favor, but that too much of it can drain you of energy.

How do these guys from Ukraine deal with that? Hampden will welcome them with a loving hug. This warmth could inspire or overwhelm. The pressure they put on themselves to take their homeland with them is enormous. Your heart is pounding.

“This will feel like a world event”

Oleksandr Petrakov’s extended squad includes 10 overseas players, including Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko, Everton’s Vitalii Mykolenko, West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko and Benfica’s Roman Yaremchuk.

The rest was in Slovenia in the past. They’ve played friendlies in Germany, Italy and Croatia, they’ve bonded at a training camp, have been undercooked by a lack of properly competitive play since the outbreak of war but are undoubtedly driven beyond our imaginations by what they’re seeing and hearing from home.

It’s a game where you have to check your slang. It’s not a fight or fight, but it’s important. This is going to feel really significant, a world event. For one evening, Hampden will be at the center of global sport and high on global news lists.

Ukraine have only made it to one World Cup so far, 16 years ago in Germany. They were beaten in the playoffs for the 1998, 2002, 2009 and 2013 tournaments, the last two by a single goal. At the 2014 World Cup, they led 2-0 after the first leg against France, then lost the second leg 3-0 after a man was sent off in the 47th minute.

They have hit the qualifying crossbar on so many occasions that even in peaceful times the motivation would be sky high. In times of war we are in a different stratosphere.

Ukraine went eight games unbeaten in qualifying, drawing six of them – including both games against a top-flight France. No one should be surprised if Wednesday goes the distance. Any sane voice knows the Scots have a job to do and no sane voice will give them a hard time doing it and moving to Cardiff in Wales for the weekend.

It wouldn’t make them bad people if they beat Ukraine, it would just confirm that they are good footballers led by a great captain in Andy Robertson. Two wins this week and he can spend his summer drinking as many beers on as many open-top buses as he likes.

A Scotland fan displays a banner in support of Ukraine amid Russian invasion

Clarke’s side has been unbeaten in eight. They have lost just one of their last 16 World Cup qualifiers. You are a site on the rise.

At first glance, the manager might have cause for concern about his attacking players’ lack of form on goal – Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes have not found the net in 13 games, John McGinn has found just once in 26 games – but this is a team that uses defenders have scored goals in the last four internationals and in five of the eight unbeaten internationals. Under Clarke, they tend to find a way.

You are resilient and you have to be. Kieran Tierney is out, one leg is missing. Tierney is two and three players in one, a reliable centre-back, an attacking full-back, a menacing left winger. His relentless movement and reassuring presence were integral to the Scottish recovery, but Clarke had known for at least some time that he would be able to do without the Arsenal man.

Presumably he will get Scott McKenna as a replacement. McKenna has just been promoted to the Premier League with Nottingham Forest and will have swum to camp this week.

In the sentimental abyss of the bookmaking world, 24 out of 24 firms make Scotland their favourites. Home advantage, a strong squad, confidence. Nobody believes in the fairy tale of an away win. The odds layers don’t see this as a logical conclusion. But sometimes logic has nothing to do with it.

‘Scotland must stand up to Ukrainian heroes’

There’s a story told in Ukraine and beyond about the spring of 1942 and the release of soldiers from a Nazi POW camp, including a group of talented footballers, who were captured as the Gestapo rolled into town. It speaks of the indomitable will of the Ukrainian people. Apparently, the passage of time hasn’t changed that.

Mykola Trusevych was one of those footballers, goalkeeper in his early 30s for Dynamo Kyiv and runner-up in Ukraine’s Player of the Year in the pre-war season. When Trusevych was freed, he went in search of some of his old teammates. He found eight of them, added more from Lokomotiv Kyiv and formed a team called FC Start.

Start was good. They played in a local league and beat all opponents. They spread joy and hope wherever they played, a joy and hope that the German occupiers were keen to snuff out. A game was scheduled between Start and Flakelf, the Luftwaffe team sent out to show the Ukrainians. Start won 5-1.

Enraged, the Germans demanded a rematch three days later. They used an SS officer to referee and ordered the starting guys to give the Nazi salute before kick-off. They refused. Despite being told to think seriously about the consequences of a win, they beat Flakelf 5-3. The movie Escape To Victory was loosely based on this real story.

Within weeks, some of the starting players were arrested, tortured, and sent to labor camps. Six months later, some of them were executed, including Trusevych. The Soviet poet Stepan Oliynyk wrote about them: “For our beautiful present they fell in battle … Your glory will not fade forever, the fearless hero-athletes.”

In recent months there have been fearless heroes throughout Ukraine’s history and all of Hampden will be cheering them on. It will move, we know that. It will be unforgettable, we know that too.

Jet-driven by passion and dedication to a cause far beyond mere World Cup qualification, it’s safe to assume Ukraine will impress whether they lack meaningful playing time or not.

Scotland needs to focus. They have to win a game, but it won’t be a game they’ve ever played before. Football has been around on this site for well over a century, but something new will unfold on Wednesday.

Of all the uncertainties about the outcome, one thing is guaranteed – this will be a powerful and poignant night in Glasgow.

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