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Emotional, poignant U.S. vs. Ukraine game reveals defiant Ukrainian spirit as war looms

Mar 5, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT

Cyprus Soccer Ukraine U.S. AP

With less than a thousand fans inside the hollow, empty and slightly eery Antonis Papadopoulos stadium in Larnaca, Cyprus, the neutral setting for the U.S. national team’s friendly against Ukraine on Wednesday was a poignant, emotional and disturbing reminder of the troubles affecting Ukraine.

The game was switched to Cyprus last week, after the situation in Ukraine grew more serious, as anti-government protests have already seen dozens killed and political unrest sweep across the former Soviet nation. Ukraine beat the U.S. 2-0 in a confident display, but that wasn’t important. Sure, a win will take the threat of impending war off the minds of Ukrainians, for now, but it was all about their team coming together and uniting as one.

Ukraine’s players looked thoughtful, sad and defiant as they lined up and belted out their national anthem (in Russian) before kick off full of gusto and pride. Seeing 11-men representing a nation on the verge of crumbling stand together as one was awe-inspiring and sent a shiver down the spine.

“Ukraine has not yet perished.”

That is the title of Ukraine’s national anthem, and as it rung around the near empty stadium, about 900 Ukrainian fans were sat up in one stand with sullen looks on their faces. Back home Russian troops are swarming Ukraine’s borders as we speak and full conflict seems to be just a matter of days away. This is a disturbing and worrisome time for not only Ukrainians but the entire Western world.

(MORE: U.S. friendly with Ukraine switched to Cyprus after political unrest)

Following the emotional national anthem, the two squads lined up around the center circle and observed a minutes silence for all those people who’ve perished in the uprising in the capital Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine. Most of the Ukrainian players bowed their heads, but stood with their arms around one another. This was about more than a soccer game.

source: AP

Ukraine beat the U.S. 2-0, as the nation switched their attention from potential war to soccer.

Lengthy discussions about the Ukraine national team traveling to Cyprus to play the game had taken place, but seeing the faces of the players during the immaculately observed minute silence said it all.

These players, right now, need to represent their country and give their people something to cheer and rally behind as more troubling times lie ahead.

What was a run of the mill international friendly has now turned into a huge political and humanitarian message from the Ukrainian people.

They are united. They are ready to fight for their country. And as their national anthem states: “Ukraine has not yet perished.” This match was reinforced that notion to those trying to tear Ukraine apart.

A huge banner was unfurled by the small band of Ukraine fans who’d made the trip to Cyprus.

“Ukraine is Undivided – One Country, One Team.”

  1. dante170 - Mar 5, 2014 at 3:37 PM

    What a horrible performance. 2-0 at the moment. Could have been 3 or 4 nil very easily. 350 million people and this is the best we can come up with.

  2. footballer4ever - Mar 5, 2014 at 3:52 PM

  3. footballer4ever - Mar 5, 2014 at 3:56 PM

    I must agree this game was horrible. I can understand the “friendly” factor, but in the end you want to show your best out there to get chosen for the WC.

    As far as “350 million people and this is the best we can come up with.”, well, population size is not a factor, but how many qualified athletes partake on the sport, but you are forgiven for that. Otherwise, China and India would be the football kings if you base it on population size.

  4. hildezero - Mar 5, 2014 at 4:13 PM

    That’s probably why they won this game.

  5. creek0512 - Mar 5, 2014 at 4:28 PM

    @dante170 No, that’s not the “vest we can come up with” unless you think America’s best does not include any players playing in North America.

  6. csv13 - Mar 5, 2014 at 4:32 PM

    Don’t be too surprised… Ukraine is in europe. Dorothy, you are not in CONCACAF anymore 😀. I love watching the US play in the world cup, so I’m glad they are not in european qualification… then I think it’s pretty unlikely I’d ever get to do this. Maybe once or twice a century.

    And the soccer playing population in the US is absolutely enormous (265 million by one survey, with the 2nd most registered players of any country… Germany being first). Why is it this way (big population, average results (but in many ways encouraging, it must be said in all fairness- US soccer has made big strides))? This requires a long answer, but, in a nutshell… the player’s getting trained are not athletes or competitors, they have landed in a superior environment. The athletes who have the psychological traits that would allow them to thrive if selected for the right training envirornment are not, because they are not as technically talented (surprise) as those players who have access to the best clubs from a young age.

    There aren’t proofs for things like this, but here’s the swedish ice-hockey model… until 16 years of age, you play for the town you were born in. You can be selected for regional training teams, but then you return to your local club. RESULT? Player’s at that club get better- Swedish hockey gets better- and when these player’s reach adult hood, those who rise to the top have done so without any external advantage (eg- better coaches, better training environment)… they have earned it, and are likely to have the qualities that will make them succeed when now at 16 being selected for professional teams and the national team. Does it work? Um… yeah, I think Swedish hockey is doing alright. If you cheer for the Detroit Red Wings then you’re certainly pleased with the model.

    So… how much investment is there in player development and at which age? Basically, they take kids already in super clubs and give them the training they already are getting but with better players around them. You can say one thing about it… it’s very american. Spend resources on those who already have every advantage. 😀

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