Gareth Bale led Wales to their first World Cup since 1958, but Ukraine’s hopes of raising the emotions of a war-torn country were tragically dashed in Cardiff on Sunday by a 1-0 defeat.
Despite the visitors dominating the game in soggy conditions at Cardiff City Stadium, Bale’s free-kick was diverted into his own net by Ukrainian captain Andriy Yarmolenko.
Ukraine made a nation proud by defeating Scotland 3-1 in their first competitive match since Russia’s invasion on Wednesday.
Oleksandr Petrakov’s men earned much more from another outstanding performance under the pressure of carrying the dreams of a people crushed by Russian assault.
The Ukrainian national hymn was applauded by all sides of the stadium before the game, and the visitors were motivated rather than hindered by the pressure placed on them, as they had been on their previous trip to Scotland in midweek.
They were, however, obliged to pay an exorbitant price for not taking chances and for a single disaster!
Story of the match
After only three minutes, Oleksandr Zinchenko scored, but the Manchester City midfielder was adjudged to have taken his free-kick that caught Wayne Hennessey off guard too quickly.
Hennessey then had to be on his toes to keep Roman Yaremchuk from scoring, before Viktor Tsygankov sliced a great chance wide.
Wales had rarely attacked Ukraine’s goal, but in Bale they have a player capable of turning the course of games in an instant!
The 32-year-old is currently without a club after finishing his nine-year stint at Real Madrid with a fifth Champions League title last weekend.
Bale has saved his best for international service in previous years and will now have the opportunity to add a World Cup to his resume!
On 34 minutes, his free kick was headed off target until Yarmolenko attempted to head it to safety but only managed in redirecting the ball past the helpless Georgiy Bushchan.
Ukraine refused to be crushed by their tragedy, and they were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty before halftime when Yarmolenko was clipped inside the area by Joe Allen.
The sequence repeated in the second half, with Rob Page’s men pinned inside their own half.
The hosts had chances to double their lead on the counter-attack, but Aaron Ramsey steered wide, Brennan Johnson struck the post, and Bale fired meekly into the arms of Bushchan.
At the other end, chances continued to come and go as Tsygkanov’s effort was saved by Hennessey before Yaremchuk put the rebound wide.
Ben Davies’s last-ditch challenge then denied Yarmolenko a chance at atonement.
Five minutes from time, Hennessey made a fantastic save to prevent substitute Artem Dovbyk’s header from finding the top corner.
Wales was ousted in the quarterfinals of the previous World Cup by a goal for Brazil by 17-year-old Pele.
They will now go down in history once more when they face England, the United States, and Iran in November in Qatar.