Oleksandr Zinchenko says beating Italy will bring joy to Ukraine beyond football

Arsenal’s Ukraine international Oleksandr Zinchenko is ready for the game of his life as his war torn nation faces Italy for a place in the European Championships.

Playing for Premier League title-chasers Arsenal is relative fun compared to the significance of representing a nation desperate for some escape from their war with Russia.

Zinchenko said: “It’s massive. This is going to be the game of our lives, especially now, at the toughest time of our independence. To bring some positives news for Ukrainian people is so important.

“I’m definitely going there to fight for the result. It’s so important to play in the Euros and an amazing achievement already [to get this close to qualifying]. We know that while we are wearing a Ukrainian shirt, especially now, is the proudest moment of our lives.

“Since being a kid you always dream to play for the national team, but, especially now, with the war in our country, we understand completely that every single game, it doesn’t matter which one, even a friendly, when you win the game, it’s another positive for our people.”

The articulate 26-year-old, then addressed the challenge of playing international football in neutral venues and club football while his fellow countrymen are at war.

“You ask me is it hard or not to play football? Let me ask you: ‘is it hard for the people who are staying on the front line and giving their lives for our independence and for our freedom? Which way is harder?’ So, that’s my answer.”

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The odds were already against Sergiy Rebrov’s team, a situation made worse by having to play in neutral Germany, due to the ongoing conflict, and without many fans after their racist behaviour resulted in a partial stadium closure.

That followed incidents in September’s matches against England and Italy, after which UEFA proclaimed: “The UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body’s decision of 20 September 2023 is amended, as follows: To fine the Ukrainian Association of Football €15,000, to order the partial closure of the Ukrainian Association of Football’s stadium during the next (1) UEFA competition match in which the Ukrainian Association of Football plays as host association and to ban the Ukrainian Association of Football from selling tickets to its away supporters for its next (1) match, for the racist behaviour of its supporters.”

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