JON SHALLARD REPORTING —- Politics and sport not only came face to face but became dramatically entangled as Ukraine beat Scotland 3-1 at Hampden Park, Glasgow, in the closing stages of a World Cup qualifying tie of deep and mixed emotions.

In simple football terms the tie was a European qualifying playoff semi-final with the prize being a trip south to play Wales in Cardiff on Sunday for a place at the finals in Qatar in November and December.

The ultimate football prize

Scotland were favourites on the footballing basis that their opponents had been preparing in Slovenia with only a handful of friendly matches.

But most of the watching footballing world was supporting the Ukrainians as their nation battled for its very survival in the devastating and destructive teeth of a military invasion which has seen Russia declare itself as an international pariah.

Russia’s invasion, 98 days earlier, had forced the postponement of the Hampden clash.

The opening exchanges were frantic and Ukraine might even have taken the lead in the sixth minute. Scotland were caught out when Viktor Tsygankov beat Aaron Hickey to his loose ball and his first-time shot was tipped over the bar by veteran keeper Craig Gordon.

The veteran keeper came to Scotland’s rescue again to deny Andriy Yarmolenko and then Roman Yaremchuk while Scotland, surprised by the visitors’ aggression, struggled to put together anything comparative in attack, They finally forced a corner after 20 minutes but nothing came of it and Ukraine pushed forward again.

In the 35th minute they took a deserved lead. through Yarmolenko’s 45th goal for his country and potentially the most important. The Scotland defence was caught out by a simple ball over the top from Ruslan Malinovskyi and Yarmolenko clipped a lob over the advancing Gordon.

Ukraine were well worth a halftime lead which they extended immediately after the restart. This time it was Yaremchuk who punished Scotland’s flabby defending with a downward header after the outstandng Yarmolenko had escaped down the wing and Oleksandr Karavayev crossed to the far post.

For the first time, boos began to emanate from the Scottish fans. Ukraine were in command and Scotland had no answers. John McGinn was booked for a foul on Taras Stepanenko which had desperation written all over it.

In all of this the closest Scotland came was a hurried clearance by goalkeeper Heorgyi Bushchan which ricocheted back off Callum McGregor but wide of goal.

Finally manager Steve Clarke changed both personnel and tactics and brought new impetus into attack with the introduction of the more direct Ryan Christie. Ukraine rresponded with substitutes of their own to boost their flagging energies and Scotland’s brief surge appeared to recede.

Then, out of nowhere, Scotland pulled one goal back to set up a frantic finale.

Stuart Armstrong crossed, Scott McTominay challenged goalkeeper Bushchan who flapped the ball down to the feet of McGregor. Bushchan mishandled the subsequent shot which bounced over the goal-line despite Mykola Matvienko’s vain clearance attempt.

Scotland charged forward into stoppage time and, with the crowd right behind them, forced a corner. The Tartan Army groaned as Grant Hanley’s header bounced out for a goal kick and Ukraine ran away for Artem Dobvyk to strike the decider.

Ukraine ran a weary lap of honour at the final whistle . . . and a dispirited but admringly generous Hampden rose to them.

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