Kiev (dpa) – Football is a national sport for Ukraine. But the state of football in the country is not the best after political turmoil and years of economic crisis.
The corona virus is now taking some regular players off the field – and that just before the important Nations League game against Germany in Kiev on Saturday (8.45 p.m. / ARD). The Federal State Department and the Robert Koch Institute warn against travel to the risk area. Sportingly, the match also promises not to be a success for Ukraine.
The country and Poland were the proud hosts of the European Football Championship in 2012. After the pro-Western fall of the government in 2014, the economic crisis that erupted also took its toll on football. The top class Premjer Liha has shrunk from 16 to 12 clubs. Long-standing traditional clubs such as Metalist Kharkiv and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk disappeared from the stage after bankruptcies. Since this season, however, 14 teams have been competing for the championship cup.
In addition to the economic problems, the conflict that broke out in 2014 with the Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk dealt a blow to the sport. The proudly built EM stadium in the city of Donetsk, the Donbass Arena, has long since closed. The then newly built airport was destroyed. League heavyweight Shakhtar Donetsk had to move, today the footballers play in Kharkiv, Eastern Ukraine. With Olimpik Donetsk and Zorya Luhansk, two other teams have to keep the league going away from their home fan base and their own stadiums.
The head coach of the national team, Andrei Shevchenko, is also plagued by staff concerns. The Corona crisis has hit the country and the national team hard. In the ex-Soviet republic the numbers are increasing rapidly; most recently there were more than 5800 new infections in one day. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 4,800 people have officially died and more than 250,000 in the country have been infected with a sickly health system. Some of the regular players of the Ukrainian team are among the infected. The virus also sidelined three goalkeepers – even 45-year-old goalkeeper coach Alexander Schowkowski had to intervene in an emergency.
Even before the game against Germany, the situation improved only marginally. A total of 14 players cannot participate due to injuries or coronavirus infections. The final tests at Master Schachtjor on Thursday revealed nine infections to players and another nine to staff. Therefore, the Ukrainians will only be bolstered by the three Donetsk players Wiktor Kowalenko, Romero Marlos and Valeri Bondar. Zorya Luhansk’s goalkeeper, Nikita Shevchenko, was also nominated again.
Nevertheless, the mayor and ex-professional boxer Vitali Klitschko of Kiev wants to bring 20,000 fans to the Olympic Stadium. For the Nations League games, he also relaxed the corona requirements for sporting events in the metropolis. “We will cheer and obey the safety rules in the stadiums,” said Klitschko before the game in Germany. The fans must keep a distance of five feet in the stands – or leave three seats next to each other. The visitors’ body temperature is measured and they must wear mouth and nose protection.
As expected, the Ukrainians were literally dismantled in Paris on Wednesday by the reigning world champion France. At 1: 7, the Ukrainian team suffered the biggest defeat in their history since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. After the game, the 44-year-old coach stated: our best line-up. But the DFB-Elf should get more resistance on Saturday. After all, Ukraine is still in second place in Group 4 of the Nations League Ligue A after Spain after beating Switzerland and is unbeaten for ten home games.