The United States and Ukraine’s national soccer teams kicked off in an international friendly match this afternoon, one of the final opportunities for many American players to either solidify or earn their positions on the team before the World Cup begins in June.
For Ukraine, which narrowly missed qualification for Brazil, the match has a different level of significance. As Russian troops seized control of the country’s Crimean region and political and military turmoil gripped the country, Ukraine originally moved the match to Cyprus. It nearly decided not to play the match at all, but the Ukrainians ultimately traveled to Cyprus, and before the match began, its players and a sparse group of fans belted out a moving rendition of the country’s national anthem as a sign draped over the second-level of the stadium declared that “Ukraine Is Undivided: One Country — One Team.”
The first line of the Ukrainian national anthem: “Ukraine is not yet dead, nor its glory, nor its freedom.”
“This is a very important decision to raise the patriotic spirit of the Ukrainian people,” Football Federation of Ukraine president Anatoliy Konkov said Tuesday when asked about the decision to go ahead with the match. “It must unite the country and show the whole world how high our flag waves and how proudly sounds the anthem of the independent state.”