Vitalii Mykolenko’s Ukraine were beaten 1-0 by Wales in Sunday’s World Cup play-off despite a valiant and determined effort at Cardiff City Stadium.
Ukraine qualified for the play-off final with a superb 3-1 win over Scotland on Wednesday and again performed admirably in the Welsh capital.
Mykolenko and his teammates’ collective courage, skill and resolve during an unimaginably difficult time will have provided every Ukrainian with a monumental source of pride.
Everton left-back Mykolenko set up golden chances for Ukraine to equalise after Andriy Yarmolenko’s own goal gave Wales the lead. Mykolenko’s precision crosses found Viktor Tsygankov and Artem Dovbyk, but man-of-the-match Wayne Hennessey athletically kept out both efforts.
Wales’ victory means they will compete at a World Cup finals for the first time in 64 years, with their qualification sparking joyous scenes at Cardiff City Stadium.
Ukraine’s football was bright and inventive from the outset, with Mykolenko offering an important attacking outlet on the left flank.
Ukraine dominated possession for large periods and Hennessey was the busier keeper in the opening half, making fine saves from Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk.
Wales also looked dangerous every time they advanced into the final third, however, and they took the lead on 34 minutes when Gareth Bale’s free-kick delivery was headed into his own goal by Yarmolenko.
Ukraine looked to deliver an immediate response and had strong shouts for a penalty turned down when Joe Allen appeared to have kicked Yarmolenko.
Wales were an improved side after the half-time break and Aaron Ramsey and Dan James came close to extending their advantage.
In a breathless encounter, Mykolenko’s driven low centre was then met by Tsygankov 15 yards out but the forward saw his shot well saved.
Wales almost made the game safe when Brennan Johnson fired against the post and Bale forced an excellent stop from Georgi Bushchan,
Hennessey then came to the home team’s rescue again six minutes from time when Mykolenko expertly landed a cross on Dovbyk’s head, but the Burnley keeper made a spectacular fingertip save.
Ukraine continued to throw men forward in search of a leveller but Wales defended with resilience and spirit to see out the game and book their spot at the World Cup in Qatar.
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