Ukraine will not take part in the World Cup in Qatar after an own goal has ended the country's hopes. Our correspondent and many others with him still had fun at the public viewing in Kyiv.
When I returned to Kyiv from western Ukraine about five weeks ago, there was a Russian rocket attack on the capital in the evening. Several rockets landed near the city center at the time. Since then, the Russians have had no success shelling Kyiv: although several attempts were made, Kiev's air defenses worked well. Until Sunday, when the Ukrainian national team played for the World Cup. Many people from Kiev were looking forward to the game, not least because of the early kick-off time, which meant that the game could be followed in a pub despite the nightly curfew.
But at 6 a.m. Kyiv was woken up by around five explosions on the left bank. An object belonging to the Ukrainian railway was hit, and at least one other rocket was shot down in front of the city. Large plumes of smoke could be seen from several parts of the city, but according to the city administration, fortunately no one was killed. This was an unwanted awakening for the Ukrainian capital, which became much livelier again in these five weeks and in some cases has almost returned to a kind of normality. Although they knew that rocket fire was always possible, they had just gotten used to the fact that the constant air raid alarms were not followed by any hits.
Sunday was still dedicated to football. In the city center there were many people in the jerseys of head coach Oleksandr Petrakov's team, and most of the pubs were already fully booked shortly after the comfortable win against Scotland. It was a welcome opportunity for the people to distract themselves and cheer on their own team over a beer. When Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest a few weeks ago, it was not possible because of the night curfew.
I myself watched the game in a small, traditional beer hall not far from the Olympiskyj Stadium, where everyone felt like they knew each other. Because of the many people in a small space, it was a bit stuffy, but that's just part of it. While the Ukrainian national anthem was sung cautiously before kick-off, the atmosphere improved with every passing minute. Because the team around Manchester City star Oleksandr Zinchenko dominated the game and, like Scotland, put Wales under pressure early on. The only concern in the audience: "We finally have to score a goal, because after the complicated preparation we would have been physically inferior in the second half."
In fact, Ukraine managed to score in the 34th minute. However, it was a tragic and completely unnecessary own goal by team captain Andriy Jarmolenko after a penalty by world star Gareth Bale. Yarmolenko, who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and grew up in Chernihiv, Ukraine, which was embattled at the start of the Russian invasion, is considered arguably the most successful player in the history of the Ukraine national team. The West Ham United right winger is just a few goals away from tying the goals record of national hero Andriy Shevchenko. Sunday's goal won't help, though.
In the pub there was quite disappointment, but also sympathy for the national captain who had played brilliantly against Scotland. "Come on, Jarmola, just keep going," was the message. Six minutes later there was a controversial episode involving Yarmolenko: Joe Allen kicked the Ukraine captain in the penalty area. Ukrainian commentator Wiktor Wazko spoke of a clear penalty, the crowd was unanimous on his side - but not the Spanish referee Antonio Mateu, whose decision was booed after the VAR review in the pub in Kyiv. At the end of the half there was loud applause for the Ukrainian team despite being 1-0 down.
In the second half, football commentator Wazko, who specializes in the Bundesliga and is a BVB fan, becomes even more emotional. A streaming service showing the game has meanwhile been hacked by Russians, so that propaganda videos from Russian television are briefly shown there. "Burning in hell, you damned orcs," calls Wazko - the swear word "orcs" is used in Ukraine to describe the Russian invaders. "Just burn in hell you bastards. I wish you never have football until the end of your life." The guests of the pub loudly support Wazko, the video clip with his announcement goes viral through various telegram channels during the game.
Otherwise, the second half was a story of disappointment. The Ukrainians created many chances again, although they actually looked a bit weaker physically than in the first half. But a goal just didn't want to fall. In many ways, this game was reminiscent of the recent Champions League final, which was also discussed among fans. But even after the second half there was even louder applause for the team, which was so close to such an important victory for Ukrainian society. "Well, what the heck, you fought great, thanks for that," was the tenor immediately after the game. People stayed in the pub for a good half hour until they slowly went home because of the curfew.
Three Nations League games are still waiting for the Ukrainian national team. What awaits Ukrainian football, however, is unclear. Both the head of the Ukrainian association and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy want the Ukrainian league to start again in August - not in Poland, as had been discussed, but in the comparatively safe western Ukraine, as a signal to the entire country. On the day of the game against Wales, Zelenskyy visited the positions of Ukrainian troops on the Donbass front. However, it remains questionable whether the championship can really be held smoothly under constant Russian rocket fire.