Ukraine produced a stirring performance to beat Scotland in their World Cup play-off semi-final at Hampden Park on Wednesday.
An emotionally charged encounter was played against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, with this – a match of huge significance – the nation’s first competitive game since Russia’s invasion in February.
It was the visitors who settled quicker following a frantic opening to proceedings, but Craig Gordon was on his toes to make three crucial early saves.
The Scotland stopper tipped a half-volley from Viktor Tsygankov over the bar before miraculously denying Yarmolenko from point-blank range. Two minutes later Gordon was off his line sharply to smother Roman Yaremchuk as he bore down on goal.
The hosts’ opportunities were limited in the first half as Ukraine kept them at arms’ length. Grant Hanley headed over from a corner and a John McGinn effort suffered a similar fate following some good combination play down the left flank.
The opening goal was worthy of the occasion, and the scorer was apt. Shortly after the half-hour mark, Ukrainian national treasure Yarmolenko ran onto Ruslan Malinovksyi’s inch-perfect long ball before controlling expertly and lifting a deft finish over the onrushing Gordon and into the back of the net.
Ukraine tightened their grip early in the second half, imposing themselves and doubling their lead within five minutes. Roman Yaremchuk rose highest at the back post to send a downward header into the bottom corner and leave Scotland’s World Cup hopes dangling by a thread.
The visitors were oozing confidence and went close again when Yarmolenko danced int the box and tested Gordon at his near post.
John McGinn then missed a gilt-edged chance to pull one back when he somehow headed wide from a rebound when he was just a few yards out. Each keeper produced a save from half-chances at either end before Scotland did give themselves hope.
After he had already flapped at the ball a couple of times, a horrible double-error from goalkeeper Georgiy Buschan gifted the hosts a goal with 11 minutes to go. Buschan produced a weak punch and Callum McGregor squeezed a shot past his weak wrists that just edged over the line.
Scotland threw everything at the Ukrainians in what was left of the game but always looked susceptible on the break. After the away side had already spurned two glaring chances on the break, substitute Artem Dobvyk finally put one away with what was the last kick of the game – running clear and planting the ball beyond a rooted Gordon.
It’s Ukraine who advance to the World Cup play-off final against Wales.