Mar 4, 2014, 3:41 PM EDT
Monday’s reports that the Ukrainian national team would skip Wednesday’s friendly proved false, but if U.S. Soccer’s confirmation the game is still on wasn’t enough to eliminate doubt, consider today’s reporting from Cyprus. Mykhaylo Fomenko’s team is on the ground. They’re practicing. They’re planning on playing tomorrow. It’s almost as if some Ukrainian web site decided to play a joke on the U.S. soccer world.
Not quite. As the Associated Press’s work shows, the decision to leave an increasingly uncertain situation was not taken lightly.
“[We] reached a consensus to play the USA after all,” Ukrainian soccer association president Anatoliy Konkov said in a statement, hinting that pulling out of the friendly had been a serious consideration. “[U.S. Soccer] stood behind us to protect the national interests and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Those interests, currently in flux as unrest in Ukraine has left a country divided, looked set to keep the national team at home this week, with a friendly moved from Kharkiv, Ukraine, to Larnaca, Cyprus, leading Konkov to question the value of the game. After rhetorically asking broadcaster ICTV “why shall we go to Cyprus in those troubled times for [our] country,” Konkov has seen his national team honor their commitment.
“The national team is a symbol of unity because players come from all over Ukraine,” captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk said at practice on Tuesday. Still, the conflict in the Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder’s homeland was not far from his mind.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” he said. “We have our families, we worry but we hope that we can keep the peace in Ukraine as quickly as possible.”
In the interim, a squad with predominantly Ukraine-based players get a chance to return to the field, with the country’s Premier League canceling last weekend’s return from a two-month break amid the domestic unrest.
“The players want to play on an official level and want to test their level of play after a two-month winter break,” spokesman Alexander Glyvynskyy said.
Against a team of U.S. players auditioning for this summer’s World Cup, Ukraine’s sure to see spirited opposition. But that opposition will be kept in perspective by a team facing bigger challenges at home.
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