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Mudryk sends war-torn Ukraine to Euro 2024

Ukraine players celebrate after qualifying for Euro 2024 by beating Iceland (Sergei GAPON)
Ukraine players celebrate after qualifying for Euro 2024 by beating Iceland (Sergei GAPON)

Ukraine qualified for Euro 2024 on Tuesday by beating Iceland 2-1, delivering an emotional boost to a country ravaged by war since the Russian invasion of February 2022.

Second-half strikes from Viktor Tsygankov and Mykhailo Mudryk turned around the game for Serhiy Rebrov's side, who trailed at the break following Albert Gudmundsson's opener.

"Thank you, guys! Thank you, team! For significant emotions for the entire country. For the important victory and making it to EURO. For proving once again: whenever Ukrainians face difficulties but do not give up and continue to fight, Ukrainians certainly win," Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on X.

"In times, when the enemy tries to destroy us, we demonstrate every day that Ukrainians are and will be. Ukraine is, and will be! Thank you for the victory! Glory to Ukraine!"

The hosts Ukraine, playing in the Polish city of Wroclaw due to the ongoing conflict, began the brighter of the two sides and dominated possession in the opening 10 minutes.

However, it was Iceland who nearly broke the deadlock in the 14th minute when a great run by Hakon Arnar Haraldsson gave Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson the chance to test Andriy Lunin in the Ukraine goal.

Rebrov's men responded instantly at the other end but Vitaliy Mykolenko shanked his left-footed strike when in a good position inside the box.

Gudmundsson made the breakthrough on the half-hour mark with a sublime solo effort for his 10th goal in an Iceland shirt.

The 26-year-old slalomed away from two Ukrainian defenders before feeding a perfectly placed curling effort with his left foot beyond the reach of Lunin from 25 yards.

Six minutes later, 21-year-old Ukrainian playmaker Georgiy Sudakov stung the palms of Hakon Rafn Valdimarsson at the near post following a poor defensive clearance by Iceland.

The hosts then thought they were back on terms in the 39th minute when Roman Yaremchuk tucked home Tsygankov's cross.

But after wild celebrations from the Ukraine fans, the goal was chalked off after VAR adjudged Tsygankov to have previously been offside from Sudakov's clipped pass.

Ukraine were firmly on top for the remainder of the first half as play began to become more physical, with Ruslan Malinovskyi picking up a yellow card for an elbow on Haraldsson immediately after the decision to disallow Ukraine's equaliser.

- 'Difficult times' -

Tsygankov made amends for his earlier offside when he powered Ukraine level nine minutes into the second half.

Sudakov was again at the heart of things and his pinpoint crossfield ball found the winger, who drove in from the right flank and beat Valdimarsson with a left-footed strike inside the far post.

With just under 20 minutes to play, Ukraine nearly completed the turnaround, but Mykolenko again failed to make the most of a good position in the box and poked his finish wide of the post.

Real Madrid stopper Lunin produced a superb save to deny Thorsteinsson from close range on 77 minutes, before Gudmundsson dragged wide one minute later when in a dangerous position.

Iceland looked to be the more likely to score until Mudryk found space 18 yards out and swept Sudakov's lay-off into the far corner of the goal with just six minutes remaining on the clock.

After narrowly losing in the play-offs for the 2022 World Cup, qualifying for Euro 2024 will be a boost for the war-torn country.

"It is an amazing feeling. I am very happy because it is another dream come true. A big thank you to our fans, they helped us through these difficult times amazingly," said midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko.

The win ensures Ukraine make a fourth consecutive appearance at the European Championship, going back to when they hosted the tournament alongside Poland in 2012.

At the European Championship in Germany this summer, Ukraine will take on Belgium, Slovakia and Romania in Group E.

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