Mircea Lucescu, manager of Ukrainian Premier League club Dynamo Kyiv, has appealed to Scotland and Wales to allow Ukraine head to the World Cup in their stead.
Ukraine were billed to face Scotland in the just concluded international break, and the winner of that fixture would go on to face Wales for a spot in the World Cup.
An invasion by Russian forces on the orders of Vladimir Putin threw the nation into turmoil and football had to take a back seat in the nation, with some of the players and managers even enlisting in the Ukrainian military to help fight off the Russians.
Russia has been banned from football by the world football governing body, FIFA and the European football governing body, UEFA as a result, and Ukraine’s match against Scotland was moved to June.
However, Ukrainian footballers based in their home country have been unable to play in order to build match fitness and with no end to the war in sight, may not see any football action any time soon.
Dynamo Kyiv manager Lucescu has weighed in on the issue, and has asked both Scotland and Wales to show support for Ukraine by allowing them to go to the World Cup as a first step to help revive their football.
The 76-year-old Romanian, who is the oldest working manager in football, has fled to his home country and also helped with the settling of refugee footballers in Romania, which borders Ukraine.
He said to the media, “We have now managed to bring 11 members of the Dynamo Kyiv squad to Romania, many of whom are in the national team.
“They received a special permit from the Ukrainian government making them exempt from national service and were allowed to leave the country.
“And now is a chance for football to show their support for Ukraine too.
“Allowing Ukraine a free passage through the play-offs directly to the World Cup would be an enormous boost for the country.
“It’s the right thing to do and would immeasurably help Ukraine both in a sporting sense and also for the morale of the people.”
Meanwhile, Shaktar Donetsk midfielder Taras Stepanenko has asked UEFA to give the Ukrainian national team more time to prepare for their match against Scotland.
Match fitness remains a concern for Ukrainian players, leading to calls from people like Lucescu to Scotland and Wales to allow Ukraine to go to the World Cup directly.
However, Ukraine’s players, manager and football association president have all rejected these calls, stating that they have no interest in the football charity for a direct World Cup slot.
Still, Stepanenko has asked that the match against Scotland be pushed further back in order to allow himself and his teammates adequate time to prepare.
The 69-cap Ukrainian midfielder, while echoing his team’s insistence on earning their slot via the playoffs, said, “We don’t want to be known as victims here. We are strong and capable guys, everyone is fine and we can play 100%.
“But the question I would ask is how can we play such an important game when you haven’t played a match for such a long time?
“Every football player knows that if you recover from an injury for a long time, no matter how much you work out in the gym and do running, you go out to play football and everything is different.
“The level and strength may not be enough with one match, but we will be asked to play two incredibly tough matches in maybe four days to get to the World Cup.
“If there is no option then we must play.
“But I think it would be extremely difficult to achieve two positive results. We are hoping FIFA and UEFA recognise this and postpone the matches to give us more time to prepare.”
The Ukrainian FA have begun plans to prepare for their match, asking for help from Manchester United and Arsenal to help set up friendly games.
Pending the outcome of the match, Ukraine could be playing in Group B with England, Iran and USA in Qatar come November-December.