AYIA NAPA, Cyprus (AP) — With the country in turmoil, Ukraine’s national football team says it is a symbol of the country’s unity.
The Ukrainians are scheduled to face the United States in a friendly on Wednesday in Cyprus, a match moved from Kharkiv to Larnaca for security reasons.
“The national team is a symbol of unity because players come from all over Ukraine,” said its captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk on a wind-swept practice pitch behind the team’s hotel in the coastal resort of Ayia Napa. “We’re all one big family, we’re all united.”
Speaking ahead of the team’s training session on Tuesday, Tymoshchuk said the troubles at home do weigh on players’ minds.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” he said. “We have our families, we worry but we hope that we can keep the peace in Ukraine as quickly as possible.”
Team spokesman Alexander Glyvynskyy said Wednesday’s match is dedicated to the people of Ukraine under the slogan “Peace for Ukraine.”
“We are not ready for war,” Glyvynskyy said. “We hope that we can be good neighbors (with Russia) in the future.”
Ukraine coach Mykhailo Fomenko said he wanted his team’s performance to send a message of unity back home.
“Most important is unity and concentration, it’s important for all Ukrainians,” Fomenko said. “I told the players to play like one unit.”
Despite threats to cancel the match, Ukraine football association president Anatoliy Konkov said Tuesday the game would go ahead.
“(We) reached a consensus to play the USA after all,” Konkov said in a statement that also praised the American team. “(They) stood behind us to protect the national interests and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
The match, which will be played at Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium, is a key warm-up for the United States ahead of this year’s World Cup. But for Ukraine, which failed to qualify for the tournament in Brazil, it will serve as preparation for the qualifying tournament for the 2016 European Championship.
“This game is a huge opportunity, mainly for our European-based players, for those guys to prove to us that they are eager and hungry to jump on the train to the FIFA World Cup,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.
Fomenko said earlier in Kiev that he expects Wednesday’s game to be similar in style to a Premier League match, since many of the American players play for English clubs.
Glyvynskyy said he expects the Americans to play an attacking game, but that Ukraine is injury-free and has all its best players available.
“The players want to play on an official level and want to test their level of play after a two-month winter break,” he said.
He added that Cyprus was an ideal location for the match because it was relatively simple to organize at short notice and there are no problems with visa issues.
Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium has hosted many of Cyprus’ international matches, but it’s not the Mediterranean island’s top football venue. The GSP Stadium in Nicosia, however, is unavailable because Cyprus is hosting Northern Ireland in another friendly.
It’s the second time in recent weeks that Cyprus has been selected as an alternate venue for a match involving a Ukrainian team. Last month, a Europa League match between Dynamo Kiev and Valencia was moved to the Cypriot capital.