Ireland v Ukraine is much more important than football

Bill Shankly’s oft-quoted quote claimed football was ‘much more important’ than a matter of life and death, and while Ukraine proves that to be nonsense, it can still lift the spirits of a nation, even in the darkest times.

Ireland welcome Ukraine to the Aviva Stadium in a game far more important than wins, draws, losses or football itself, with the war-torn country receiving the warmest of welcomes as fans return for watch Boys in Green for the first time from home since March.

Stephen Kenny’s side will be ready to bounce back from the disappointing defeat in Armenia in their second Nations League game against a Ukrainian side who missed out on a World Cup spot but won the admiration of millions around the world because of how they’ve fared over the past week.

Fans draped in Ukrainian national flags hold a ‘Stop the War’ banner during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Semi-Final Qualifying football match between Scotland and Ukraine at Hampden Park in Glasgow, in Scotland, June 1, 2022. Photo: Andy Buchanan / AFP via Getty Images

Manchester City star Oleksandr Zinchenko broke down in tears during a press conference ahead of his country’s World Cup semi-final tie against Scotland.

Asked by the media present what this match meant to him, an emotional Zinchenko said: “We want to give incredible emotions to the Ukrainian people because the Ukrainians deserve it so much right now.”

Ahead of the draw at Hampden Park, the full-back also expressed his appreciation to Steve Clarke’s Scotland side for their ‘incredible help’ after they agreed to postpone the original game in March following the eruption of violence in Ukraine weeks earlier, setting the standard for other nations.

Ukraine midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko reacts during a news conference at Hampden Park, Glasgow on May 31, 2022 on the eve of their 2022 World Cup qualifier soccer match between Scotland and Ukraine. Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images

Stephen Kenny spoke eloquently about the plight of the Ukrainian people – many of whom saw their national team narrowly fail to seal a place in Qatar in bomb shelters with a narrow loss to Wales on Sunday – and now it is around Ireland.

Ukraine will not take part in the 2022 World Cup, so it falls to its allies – less constrained by political tensions on the ground – to show their support and raise awareness, starting here: if Ireland are really the best supporter in the world, it’s time to show everyone how it’s done.

Every photograph, banner, article and viral video of fans and players on Loud Lansdowne Road; everyone has a role to play and everyone must make sure their part counts.

A young Ukrainian supporter raises a Ukrainian flag reading + ‘STOP WAR’ during the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers match between Wales and Ukraine at Cardiff City Stadium on June 05, 2022 in Cardiff, Netherlands Wales. Photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images

Ties between the countries have grown stronger in recent months, with Ireland sending large amounts of non-military aid to help the sprawling refugee crisis developing on Ukraine’s western border. Addressing the Oireachtas in April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Ireland for “the humanitarian and financial support given to Ukraine”.

The general public has also played its part in helping to welcome the arrival of more than 30,000 Ukrainian refugees since the start of the conflict, helping them integrate into society and providing them with accommodation where possible.

The FAI has offered 2,000 tickets to a selection of these Ukrainian refugees and support for Oleksandr Petrakov’s team is expected to be strong in Dublin. The lack of atmosphere that usually surrounds the visiting teams’ anthems should surely be corrected by this strong Ukrainian contingent, who will make their presence felt to help their team provide momentary relief to those who have stayed at home.

A supporter waves a Ukrainian flag during the friendly match between the Republic of Ireland and Belgium at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

In turn, Ireland must give their best against a Ukrainian side who have asked for no handouts, but rather to be judged on sporting merit – despite more than half of their squad being without competitive football until to this international window.

Tonight’s result will pale into insignificance, but the respect and integrity shown to Ukraine on and off the pitch is what will be remembered.

Ireland is a proud nation, whose citizens are more than happy to receive praise for their friendliness, hospitality and ‘craic’ – how much our many expats yearn for these seemingly universal traits after moving to Ireland. foreign. The Irish are also synonymous with resilience, which the Ukrainian people have shown in abundance in the face of the greatest adversity in the battle for their homeland.

Ukraine national football team poses for a photo during the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers match between Wales and Ukraine at Cardiff City Stadium on June 05, 2022 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images

Football is an integral part of Irish society, with the unforgettable reign of Jack Charlton capturing the hearts of the nation and ushering in the Celtic Tiger.

Tonight is an opportunity to keep Ukraine in the spotlight as the minutes devoted to international coverage of the war dwindle, an opportunity to bring joy to a people who have endured so much these four months — to help him keep sight, no matter how difficult, that the world is behind them and that their own new era is coming.

Sport serves as a tool of hope to give a glimpse of brighter days ahead for the people of Ukraine – we must play our part, just like Scotland and Wales have done, like everyone else must too.

Welcoming them to Dublin represents an opportunity for Ireland, it is up to us to seize it by giving back as much as possible. There are no limits, that’s the least Ukraine deserves.

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