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Ukraine keen to show its spirit at Euro 2024 with added motivation to advance

A Ukrainian war veteran with prosthetic legs watch players of Ukraine's national soccer team during a public training session in Wiesbaden, Germany, Thursday, June 13, 2024, ahead of their group E match against Romania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

MUNICH (AP) — Three years ago Ukraine reached the quarterfinals of the pandemic-delayed Euro 2020 in the country’s most successful European Championship to date.

But a lot has changed since then.

The war following the Russian invasion has been going on for two years and has been a constant and uniting force for this Ukraine squad, which kicks off its Euro 2024 campaign against Romania in Munich on Monday.

“I went through many things in football and life and the fact I’m here is down to the warriors who defend our country, their amazing bravery. And I’m so grateful,” Ukraine defender Illya Zabarnyi said on Sunday. “That’s the major difference between the last Euros, because we have war in our country.

“It’s very difficult when you wake up and you think what’s happening with our nearest and dearest. Of course it can pressurise us, but it adds great motivation to go onto the pitch and do everything possible.”

As well as Romania, Ukraine will face Belgium and Slovakia in Group E.

And coach Serhiy Rebrov has called on his players to show the country's spirit as they prepare for their European Championship opener.

“I know all the players are getting, I am personally getting lots of messages from our fighters, from our soldiers, from our friends who are now fighting for Ukraine, for freedom of Ukraine and I’m sure they are very proud of us,” Rebrov said.

“We are very proud for them, but they are telling us ‘when you are here show the spirit of Ukraine.’ I think this is very important. And this tournament is really about the spirit of our country.”

Ukraine sees its soccer players — and Olympic athletes — as symbols of the country’s resilience and a way to keep the world's focus on the nation.

“Of course its very emotional. We all know where we are now. I think it’s very good and very important to Ukraine to be on this forum,” Rebrov said. “Of course now in our country football is not on the first place. It’s lots of people dead, lots of kids dead.

“And all the players, when we are starting to play, we feel very (thankful) for our fighters, to our soldiers, to our supporters because now is a very difficult time for Ukraine. On each interview, each public meeting I remind … we want to remind that our war is continuing and we still need support. We are continuing to fight for our freedom.”


AP Euro 2024:

Daniella Matar, The Associated Press

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