Oleksandr Zinchenko will put personal friendships to one side when Ukraine play England at Wembley, but the Arsenal defender will always be grateful for the support shown by his team-mates and the British public during a “nightmare” year.
Sunday’s match is Ukraine’s opening fixture of the Euro 2024 qualification campaign and will be played against the backdrop of a more than year-long war in the country since Russia’s invasion.
Zinchenko, who joined Premier League leaders Arsenal from reigning champions Manchester City in pre-season, said the support of his colleagues in England, where he has been based in 2016, had touched him greatly.
“I love them all so much, but unfortunately on the pitch there are no friends, so let’s see what is going to happen tomorrow,” the 26-year-old told a pre-match news conference on Saturday.
“I got a lot of support from all of them (team-mates), for which I am so grateful.
“I would like to also say a massive thanks to all of the UK for all of the help and support for all of us Ukrainians, for the country, our people, all of the refugees who are living here.”
Zinchenko, turning to the continuing conflict in Ukraine, said: “There is no one in the country who has not been affected.
“It is about 397 days since terrorists invaded our country, and I would call these 397 days a ‘nightmare’.
“Everyone in Ukraine lost something — maybe a house, job, properties — everyone has completely changed since then, that is for sure.”
England launched their Group C qualifying campaign with a 2-1 win away to Italy, the reigning champions and the team that beat Gareth Southgate’s men in the final two years ago, on Thursday.
“We realise the strength of the England team, but we have to show our best performance and play the best games of our lives,” said Zinchenko.
Ukraine warmed up with a friendly against Brentford B on Thursday, winning 2-0 in London.
“We know there will an amazing atmosphere at Wembley,” said Ukraine interim head coach Ruslan Rotan. “We consider England as one of the top five teams in the world. We dream of playing in such matches, we enjoy them.
“Tomorrow in this beautiful country in a beautiful stadium, we are ready to show a great game.”
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