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Opinion

Scotland v Ukraine means so much more than just football

The Scotland v Ukraine match will carry more than just the hopes for the World Cup, writes Gemma Fay, Scotland’s most capped football player.

Those that have experienced it will comment there is nothing more special than the ‘Hampden roar’.  But tonight we will experience something quite unique. Scotland v Ukraine will decide who makes the next step toward November’s World Cup in Qatar. The visitors will be welcomed with opened arms, we will hold them tight in our embrace and I have no doubt more than a few tears will be shed as the Derzhavnyi Himn Ukrainy is played before a packed Hampden Park.

The eyes of the sporting world will be on the southside of Glasgow. Not a phrase commonly spoken but it holds true today. Both teams will be looking to end the run of DNQ’s that accompany their status when associated with the FIFA men’s world cups.

But for Ukraine, it almost seems unnecessary to highlight, this will be about so much more. Anyone that has ever had the honour and privilege to be selected for their country will know the feeling that overcomes you as you make your way down that tunnel and on to the pitch.

The turn to face the fans, the deep breath that raises your crest high on your chest and the racing of your pulse as the first note of your national anthem plays loudly across the tannoy.

The singing of the anthem was always a time of reflection for me. I sang the words (not always in key) but they acted as a reminder. I thought about where I had come from, the people who had helped me, the challenges I had overcome. Those who were no longer with me and how lucky I was to be doing what I loved… living my dream.

As Oleksandr Zinchenko leads his charges out tonight I imagine similar thoughts will go through the players’ minds. But the significance will be far and beyond the match ahead of them. They are not a football team but a symbol to everyone in their homeland, those that have fled and to the world that Ukraine will endure. They will remember what they are playing for: their homes, loved ones and the brave heroes that stand there defending their country and democracy.  Everyone in Ukraine, perhaps the world, will be willing them on. That feeling will course through their veins as the referee whistle blows.

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As for Scotland? In sport, the way you respect your opponent is you give it your all. I expect Andy Robertson et al to do so. Ukraine would not expect any less, in fact they should demand it.  We are both proud nations and as such we should stand together on the football pitch giving everything, for both of our countries.

Gemma Fay played 203 games for the Scottish national team between 1998 and 2017, making her Scotland’s most-capped footballer.

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