kraine moved a step closer to reaching the 2022 World Cup with an incredibly impressive 3-1 win over Scotland at Hampden Park to reach the play-off final.
In a match originally scheduled for March but postponed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it was the visitors who were by far the better side and Andriy Yarmolenko, leaving West Ham this summer, put them in front going into the break.
Roman Yaremchuk made it two shortly after the break and although Callum McGregor pulled one back late on, Artem Dovbyk sealed the result with the final kick of the match on the break.
It set up a winner-takes-all affair for Ukraine gainst Wales on Sunday – whoever comes out on top in Cardiff will book their place in Qatar, where England, Iran and the USA are waiting in Group B.
The visitors walked out at Hampden each draped in a Ukraine flag before both sides belted out their national anthems in an incredible atmosphere ahead of kick-off.
Six of those in Ukraine’s starting line-up play domestically and so have not had a competitive match in 2022. The home-based members squad have been training together in Slovenia since the start of May and played three friendlies against European club sides, before the likes of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Yarmolenko joined up with their teammates.
When the match did get underway, there was certainly no lack of intensity from the Ukrainians. Ruslan Malinovsky and Yaremchuk were both booked before the clock ticked into double figures as the challenges flew in.
Craig Gordon was twice called into action, making one impressive save and then a superb one. Viktor Tsyhankov’s first-time effort was tipped over the bar and ten minutes later the Scotland goalkeeper somehow kept out Yarmolenko’s strike from close-range.
The hosts starting to have more of an impact in attack, largely led by Andy Robertson dragging them forward on the left wing, but with just over half an hour gone Ukraine got the goal their performance deserved.
Ruslan Malinovskyi floated a long ball over the top, Yarmolenko brought it down brilliantly with his first touch and with his second sent the ball looping over Gordon, who had rushed off his line, and into the empty net.
The raucous pre-match atmosphere was replaced by something rather more tense at half-time as the hosts were booed off.
Somewhat tense became decidedly furious five minutes after the restart as Ukraine doubled their lead. Yarmolenko played the ball back to Oleksandr Karavaev, he clipped a lovely deep cross into the box and Yaremchuk was there to head it back across goal and into the bottom corner.
Ukraine threatened to run away with it immediately after scoring their second, as Yarmolenko was then denied by Gordon who had to beat an effort away at his near post.
Heorhiy Bushchan very nearly single-handedly lifted the Scottish spirits, as the Ukraine goalkeeper had his clearance charged down by Callum McGregor and he was very relieved to turn around and see it bounce wide of the post.
The inevitable charge from Scotland started to appear and they missed a glorious chance to halve the deficit midway through the second-half. Scott McTominay’s cross was fumbled by Bushchan straight onto the head of John McGinn but the Aston Villa defender did seemingly the impossible as he diverted it wide from a matter of yards.
Scotland were for the first time in the match maintaining some sort of pressure, as Che Adams was denied by a good save and McGinn then saw his effort deflected over the bar from the rebound.
Ukraine could not keep the hosts our and the deficit was halved with ten minutes remaining, as Bushchan had a few seconds to forget. The goalkeeper did not do enough to punch a cross away and McGregor’s shot from the follow-up then found a way through his gloves, crossing the line despite Taras Stepanenko’s best efforts.
Less than two minutes, substitute Artem Dovbyk found himself clean through on the counter and with a massive chance to restore the two-goal advantage, but he took too long and man-of-the-moment McGregor came rushing back to clear the danger.
His chance, and his finish, would come though as Zinchenko, imperious throughout, set Dovbyk away in the fifth minute of stoppage-time. He had time to stroll into the box and finish past Gordon at the near post with the final kick of the match, sending this extraordinary Ukraine team to within 90 minutes of a World Cup appearance.