KEIR RADNEDGE in CARDIFF: Oleksandr Zinchenko was the last Ukraine player to leave the pitch in Cardiff after his final television interview following the end of his team’s World Cup qualifying dream.

A flag-bedecked fan up in the empty stand shouted his name and the Manchester City defender looked up and waved.

In the pain of a 1-0 defeat to Wales he could have been forgiven for hurrying off to the haven of the dressingroom as fast as possible. Instead his acknowledgement spoke volumes about the courage and generosity of a group of players who had represented their embattled nation so admirably in all the circumstances.

Ukraine had been deserved winners in Scotland last Wednesday in their World Cup playoff semi-final. They were the better team in the first half in Cardiff but trailed to an own goal by captain Andriy Yarmolenko. After the interval, however, they lost their way as increasing desperation undermined their game plan.

Zinchenko said: “Everyone of us gave everything. We left all we had on the pitch. The Wales goalkeeper [Wayne Hennessey] was amazing, definitely man of the match. I don’t think we deserved to lose, but that’s football, it happens. We provided some great emotions for our fans but, unfortunately, not the result we wanted.

“Everyone needs to continue to fight, as footballers we need to represent our country as best we can. Everyone needs to live in peace and we need to stop the war altogether. Today it’s Ukraine but tomorrow who knows?”

Coach Oleksandr Petrakov said: “I think we did everything we could but I want the people of Ukraine to remember our team, our efforts.”

Petrakov must now lift his team’s morale for Nations League matches against Ireland on Wednesday and next Tuesday with Armenia inbetween at the weekend.

Once the Nations League fixtures are over players from most other countries will go on holiday but there is only a dark cloud of uncertainty awaiting Petrakov’s men. Some 16 of his 26-man squad based in Slovenia are contracted to clubs back home but football in Ukraine was halted by the Russian invasion.

None know whether they will be granted a continuing dispensation to continue their careers outside Ukraine or whether they will be expected to fight for their country in a very different way.