Wales can finally eclipse qualifying for the 1958 World Cup in a playoff against a Ukraine side every neutral will back on Sunday
As I watched the Ukraine fans cavorting in the away end after Artem Dovbyk sealed a World Cup playoff final against Wales, Arrigo Sacchi’s observation that “football is the most important of the least important things in life” felt especially pertinent. The players raised their fists in relief at a job half done, and the Ukrainian fans embraced, their minds inevitably turning to Cardiff. On Sunday they go again and it is now Rob Page’s job to make Wales the most unpopular team on Earth.
Oleksandr Zinchenko wept during the pre-match press conference on Wednesday, as he described what reaching the World Cup would mean to the people of his wartorn homeland, and how he hoped to bring joy to a country that is undergoing unimaginable suffering. As my admiration for this exceptional young man grew, I thought of all the people I have met who dismiss football as only being 22 people kicking a ball around. This fixture might have felt slightly abstract for a few months (“Wales will face Scotland or Ukraine”) but Sunday is now an event to make any fan’s heart skip a beat. It’s Ukraine at home. World Cup qualification. Winner takes all.