Ukraine eliminated from World Cup 2022 in Qatar: Qualifier loss to Wales dashes qualifying dream after Russia invasion

Ukraine eliminated from World Cup 2022 in Qatar: Qualifier loss to Wales dashes qualifying dream after Russia invasion

While it is far from the most consequential aspect of the conflict, Ukrainian domestic football came to a standstill after Russia’s invasion of the country in February 2022. But even in the wake of war, the men’s national team came within one game of a chance to help bring some respite to a nation under attack.

Months after the invasion, Ukraine fell short at the final hurdle of making the 2022 men’s World Cup in Qatar as its national team, which had been training in Slovenia in the lead-up, lost by the narrowest of margins to Wales in a single-elimination match on June 5 that could have served to lift the spirits of a nation at war.

Before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine had earned a place in Europe’s World Cup playoffs after finishing second in their qualifying group behind defending World Cup champions France. They were drawn against Scotland for the first playoff match, with the game originally set to be played on March 24.

However, after a request from the Ukrainian camp, the game was postponed to June 1. Ukraine put forth a strong performance to beat Scotland 3-1 on its home turf in Glasgow and advanced to face Wales on June 5 in a playoff final. A berth into Group B of the Qatar World Cup was at stake in that match, but an own goal by captain Andriy Yarmolenko was enough to dash their bid.

Russia was similarly supposed to play in the World Cup playoffs, but world governing body FIFA banned Russia from taking part in World Cup 2022. The Russians were due to face Poland in the qualifying playoffs, but FIFA instead gave Poland a bye into the next round, where they beat Sweden and qualified to the 2022 World Cup.

MORE: How Wales beat Ukraine to advance to Qatar 2022

Did Ukraine qualify for World Cup 2022?

After defeating Scotland on the road in a June 1 playoff semifinal, Ukraine needed one more road win at Wales to clinch a World Cup berth.

It took care of the first hurdle by beating Scotland 3-1. But it could not beat Wales on June 5, losing 1-0 and missing out on a bid to join the USA, England and Iran in Group B in Qatar.

Both matches against Scotland and Wales were single-elimination: A draw after 90 minutes would have required extra time and even penalty kicks to ensure there was a winner.

Ukraine had barely qualified for the World Cup playoffs, finishing a single point above Finland in Group D of UEFA World Cup qualifying. A 2-1 win away to the Finns in October 2021 was the critical result for Ukraine.

After it was clear that Ukraine would not be in position to field a team as early as March, FIFA, UEFA and the Scottish football authorities worked together to ensure that Ukraine would have every opportunity to compete for its place in the World Cup despite the trying times faced by the country.

The playoffs were originally slated for March 24, but they were rescheduled to happen in June, giving Ukraine more time to sort out whether it could manage to field a team. 

With the World Cup scheduled to take place in November, the June 2022 window made for the most obvious window to fulfill the playoff fixtures as long as Ukraine could manage to assemble a squad.

Ukraine 2022 fixture schedule

After its playoff elimination, Ukraine’s focus will now turn to the UEFA Nations League and the six matches scheduled for the rest of the 2022 calendar.

Date Opponent Location Competition
Wed, June 1 at Scotland (3-1 win) Glasgow, Scotland World Cup Qualifying Playoff Semifinal
Sun, June 5 at Wales (1-0 loss) Cardiff, Wales World Cup Qualifying Playoff Final
Wed, June 8 at Republic of Ireland Dublin, Ireland UEFA Nations League
Sat, June 11 vs. Armenia TBD UEFA Nations League
Tues, June 14 vs. Republic of Ireland TBD UEFA Nations League
Wed, Sept. 21 at Scotland Scotland UEFA Nations League
Sat, Sept. 24 at Armenia Armenia UEFA Nations League
Tues, Sept. 27 vs. Scotland TBD UEFA Nations League

Does Ukraine have a team?

Ukraine called up 26 players in its bid to qualify for the World Cup, and the players based with Ukrainian clubs were given special dispensation to gather and train in Slovenia in the months prior to the June World Cup playoffs.

Ukraine has several international stars based abroad who were in action for their clubs during the 2021-22 European season. The English Premier League was home to West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko, Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and Everton’s Vitaliy Mykolenko, while Ruslan Malinovskyi and Viktor Kovalenko both played in Italy’s Serie A in 2021-22.

However, 16 members of the 26-man Ukraine squad were based on Ukrainian soil, with a large number on the books at Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv. The local league not only suspended activity after Russia’s invasion, but players were also forced to cope with war.

The wife of Andriy Pyatov, the veteran goalkeeper with more than 100 caps for his country, recounted how the family had to flee Kyiv as hostilities broke out. He was part of the squad that faced Scotland and Wales.

Shakhtar’s Viktor Kornienko, who has two caps for his country, reportedly joined the efforts to repel the Russian invasion by signing up with the Ukranian armed forces. It was not clear whether he made himself available to be called up and train, but he was not on the June squad list.