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Ukraine coach upbeat despite Euro qualifier defeat by England

Ukraine coach Ruslan Rotan. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP

Ukraine interim head coach Ruslan Rotan said the “incredible” Wembley atmosphere during their 2-0 defeat against England on Sunday would inspire the team as they battle to qualify for Euro 2024.

The side from the war-torn nation were well beaten in their opening qualifier in London in front of a packed house including thousands of Ukrainian fans.

England captain Harry Kane poked home from close range in the 37th minute and Bukayo Saka scored a breathtaking long-range curler three minutes later to all but seal the Group C clash before half-time.

Despite the result, Rotan took positives from the contest against the beaten finalists at Euro 2020.

“I want to thank all the Ukrainian supporters for their incredible signals to the team, the incredible wave of support the Ukrainian team felt every minute of the game,” said the caretaker manager.

“I’m also grateful for the support of the England fans because it was an atmosphere like no other international game I have ever experienced and this unique Wembley Stadium atmosphere will give an incredible boost to the Ukrainian players who experienced it first hand.”

But Rotan said the current situation, in which Ukraine are forced to play their matches at neutral venues following Russia’s invasion of the country last year, made it tough.

“The logistics of moving from A to B are incredibly hard,” he said. “It takes us almost 24 hours to get together and move to our training camp before the games. 

“Unfortunately we have a war on our backs and we can only be grateful to the Ukrainian armed forces who make it possible for us to play games and to participate in competitions. 

“Clearly logistics under those circumstances are of second nature, it’s not the main thing. The main thing is that we need this war to end.”

Rotan bemoaned the lack of recent match practice — Ukraine had not played an international since facing Scotland in the Nations League in September.

“We knew the quality and the strength of the England team but the Ukrainian boys deserve better,” he said. “It’s a good team and it will progress.”

Future stars

Ukraine narrowly missed out on qualifying for last year’s World Cup in Qatar, losing a play-off to Wales.

“We need time,” said Rotan. “When you play a competitive game half a year after the last one it’s a hard task to perform.

“The Ukrainian team is getting younger. We’ve got future stars and in the future I’m sure we’ll get good results against anyone.” 

England have now picked up six points from their two qualifiers so far, with their win on Sunday following a 2-1 victory in Italy last week.

“It was amazing to see so many Ukrainian fans here,” said manager Gareth Southgate.

“We knew it was going to be an emotional occasion, and we all have tremendous sympathy with what’s going on and we wanted to respect that.

“Of course we had to find the balance of competing in the game, and we needed to win. I think both teams set about that on the pitch. It wasn’t a friendly, it was a full-blooded game.”

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