AYIA NAPA, Cyprus (AP) — With the country in turmoil, Ukraine’s national soccer team says it is a symbol of the country’s unity.
The Ukrainians are scheduled to face the United States in an exhibition game on Wednesday night in Cyprus, a match moved from Kharkiv to Larnaca for security reasons.
“The national team is a symbol of unity because players come from all over Ukraine,” captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk said Tuesday on a wind-swept practice field behind the team’s hotel. “We’re all one big family. We’re all united.”
Tymoshchuk said political troubles at home do weigh on players’ minds.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” he said. “We have our families. We worry, but we hope that we can keep the peace in Ukraine as quickly as possible.”
Team spokesman Alexander Glyvynskyy said Wednesday’s match is dedicated to the people of Ukraine under the slogan “Peace for Ukraine.”
“We are not ready for war,” Glyvynskyy said. “We hope that we can be good neighbors (with Russia) in the future.”
Despite threats to cancel the match, Football Federation of Ukraine President Anatoliy Konkov said Tuesday the game will go ahead.
“(We) reached a consensus to play the USA, after all,” Konkov said in a statement that praised the American team. “(They) stood behind us to protect the national interests and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
The match at Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium is among five remaining warmups for the United States ahead of this year’s World Cup. For Ukraine, a 2006 World Cup quarterfinalist and the highest-ranking nation that failed to qualify for the tournament in Brazil, it will serve as preparation for 2016 European Championship qualifying.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has a roster filled mostly with players from European clubs, then will use a group heavily from Major League Soccer for an April 2 match against Mexico in Glendale, Ariz.
“This game is a huge opportunity, mainly for our European-based players, for those guys to prove to us that they are eager and hungry to jump on the train to the FIFA World Cup,” Klinsmann said.
Ukraine coach Mykhailo Fomenko said he expects Wednesday’s game to be similar in style to a Premier League match, since many of the American players play for English clubs.
Glyvynskyy said he expects the Americans to play an attacking game. Ukraine is injury-free and has all its best players available.
“The players want to play on an official level and want to test their level of play after a two-month winter break,” he said.
Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium has hosted many of Cyprus’ international matches, but it is not the Mediterranean island’s top soccer venue. The GSP Stadium in Nicosia is unavailable because Cyprus is hosting Northern Ireland in another exhibition.
It’s the second time in recent weeks Cyprus has been selected as an alternate venue for a match involving a Ukrainian team. Last month, a Europa League match between Dynamo Kiev and Valencia was moved to the Cypriot capital.
NOTES: After the Mexico match, the U.S. will gather for training in mid-May and plans home exhibitions on May 27, June 1 and June 7. … The Americans will wear their new Nike home uniforms for the first time Wednesday.