From the front line to the World Cup: Ukrainian football’s fairy tale

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Each of the Ukraine football team’s staff and all of its national players arrived in Scotland on Monday for their World Cup qualification with a privilege not afforded to many of their compatriots – temporary permission signed under the country’s martial law to allow their travel outside the country’s borders.

Under laws enacted after the Russian invasion on February 24, any male between the ages of 18 and 60 is obliged to stay in Ukraine and join the effort to repel the attackers. Since May 1, the squad and its coaching staff, who face Scotland in Glasgow on Wednesday night for a place in the World Cup qualifier against Wales on Sunday, have had that right extended.

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“As our president [Volodymyr Zelensky] says, ‘If you’re not a soldier, you can always do what you can with the skills you have for the country,'” says the team’s media manager, Oleksandr Glyvinskyi.

He remained in Ukraine after the invasion while his family moved to Germany. He now speaks on the phone from Slovenia and that country’s national football center in Brdo, in the north near the border with Austria. The Ukrainians’ accommodation and training facilities – indeed, everything, including their food – were provided free of charge by UEFA and its Slovenian president Aleksandr Ceferin.

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“We are very grateful,” says Glyvinskyi. “We had the perfect preparation conditions – training centre, gymnasium, changing rooms, beautiful hotel and beautiful scenery. Fantastic conditions. Of course the guys are still checking their phones for news from home and worrying about their relatives.

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