Emotional Ukraine beats US 2-0 in soccer exhibition
LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) — One banner in the stands read “Ukraine is Undivided!” on the top and “One Country — One Team!” on the bottom. Ukrainian fans sang their nation’s anthem in the final moments, and some broke into a chant of “No war in Ukraine!” after the final whistle.
A small contingent of Ukrainian fans had a couple hours to forget about their nation’s troubles, wave their flags and unite amid a political crisis back home. Ukraine eased past the United States 2-0 on Wednesday in an exhibition soccer game shifted from Kharkiv to a Mediterranean island nation 600 miles to the south.
“Our country is facing difficult times now, we must support our team and our country,” said Oleg Ivanovskyi a fan from Kiev currently residing in Larnaca. “Ukraine lives and will live. This friendly match is important for us to show the friendship between the U.S. and Ukraine. The friendship between the two countries is more important than the score.”
Andriy Yarmolenko scored in the 12th minute and Marko Devic in the 68th as Ukraine exposed the shaky American central defense of Oguchi Onyewu and Anthony Brooks.
Ukraine’s players linked arms on shoulders during their national anthem of their nation, which has been disrupted by political protests followed by Russia’s military intervention. Players in both starting lineups bowed their heads as they stood on the field before the game for a moment of silence for the victims of violence in Ukraine.
The crowd of 1,573 at Papadopoulos Stadium, which has a capacity of about 10,000, was so small that players could be heard talking with each other during the game.
“Of course we do it for our supporters, for our country,” Ukraine coach Mykhailo Fomenko said. “I asked to make our people happy. We had to show that we’re all united.”
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said his team’s thoughts were with the Ukrainian people.
“You feel for that country. You feel for that nation, and there’s nothing more than wishing them well and to solve these issues peacefully,” Klinsmann said.
At 18th, Ukraine is the highest-ranking nation that failed to qualify for the World Cup. The match marked the last chance for Klinsmann to evaluate his Europe-based players before he chooses his 23-man World Cup roster in mid-May. He will use a squad mostly from Major League Soccer for an April 2 exhibition against Mexico at Glendale, Ariz.
“We’re disappointed with the result,” U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said. “We just have to do a better job and learn from our mistakes.”
Onyewu’s only prior international appearances since June 2012 were last July 5 in exhibition against Guatemala and in a CONCACAF Gold Cup match against Cuba eight days later. He was paired in central defense with Brooks, a 21-year-old making just his third international appearance. Geoff Cameron played at right back and Edgar Castillo was on the left.
“It’s understandable that collectively, it’s not clicking. It would be half a miracle if we would click,” Klinsmann said. “It was difficult for a lot of players to get into a rhythm.”
Ukraine went ahead when the U.S. failed on an attempted offside trap. Yevhen Konoplyanka sent a looping pass from just before the midfield stripe to Denys Harmash, who split Onyewu and Brooks and trapped the ball at the top of the penalty area. Goalkeeper Tim Howard blocked his shot, but Harmash picked up the rebound and squared the ball to Yarmolenko, his Dynamo Kiev teammate. He slotted the ball past Brooks with a left-footed shot from 6 yards for his 15th international goal.
The U.S. showed more spark at the start of the second half, and Jozy Altidore put an open header over the crossbar following a cross from Cameron.
But Devic scored two minutes after entering when he outran Fabian Johnson onto Roman Bezus’ headed pass from inside the midfield circle and cut the ball back to his left foot. Playing a day before his 35th birthday, Howard blocked the initial shot with a sprawling save, but Devic latched onto the rebound and slid the ball between Johnson and Brooks with a left-footed shot from 15 yards.
“When a guy comes clean through and you make the initial save, you just hope that you get enough of it that it ricochets away,” Howard said. “Unfortunately, both times they got lucky enough to where the ball came back to them. On another night, you keep a clean sheet and the ball goes elsewhere.”
Playing 99 days before the World Cup opens in Brazil, the U.S. wore its new Nike jerseys with collars that resemble polo shirts. The Americans changed all 11 starters from the 2-0 win over South Korea on Feb. 1 at Carson, Calif.
“Tonight wasn’t great,” Howard said, “but it’s not the end of the world, either.”