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Wales defender Ben Davies has praised Ukraine star Oleksandr Zinchenko as “a stand-out man” for the way he has conducted himself in the media ahead of Sunday’s emotionally-charged World Cup play-off final.
The eyes of the world will be on Cardiff City Stadium to see if Ukraine’s national football team can pull off a win that would lift a country that has been at war since Russia’s invasion in February.
A tearful Zinchenko spoke from the heart ahead of Ukraine’s 3-1 play-off semi-final victory over Scotland on Wednesday, detailing what it would mean for his country if they qualify for the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
Davies acknowledged the difficulty of the situation for Ukraine’s players and paid tribute to the way they have approached these fixtures.
“We are well aware of the situation that Ukraine is in right now, and it must be incredibly tough to be in their shoes,” said Davies.
“We know it will be an emotional event and a lot of people will be wanting some good news for Ukraine, but we have to try and stay out of that and focus on 90 minutes of football.
“Football can kind of seem a bit insignificant in these times and moments, and it is very difficult to try and rationalise that a game is so important when you’ve got such major events going on in the world.
“You have to just credit their players for the way they have handled it so far.
“The way that Zinchenko has handled it all in the media is a real credit to him, and he has shown what a stand-out man he is.”
Victory for Wales this weekend would see them secure only their second appearance at a World Cup, and first for 64 years.
Davies added: “It is something that we’ve been desperate to do for 50-60 years.
“It is major for us. It is a dream for our team and we’ve put ourselves in a situation where we are one game away, and the focus for us will be purely on that.”
Wales reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and were knocked out in the round of 16 by Denmark when Euro 2020 took place last year, having been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A World Cup place would represent an altogether different achievement, though, especially as Wales have experienced some agonising near-misses ahead of previous tournaments.
“We haven’t really thought about those near-misses,” Davies said. “We’ve only focused on what is in our control with the squad that we’ve got now.
“These boys are very fearless. It may be their first experience of crunch games since the Euros last year, but I think they handled it really well.
“We didn’t handle it as much as we wanted to in the Denmark game, but before that we stood up to the challenge.
“I think the better we do, people always expect us to maintain that level, but the reality is we have a small group of players to pick from, comparatively, to teams we come up against.
“I really do believe we are punching above our weight. It is a really good squad.”