When it was all over and Wales and Gareth Bale had won their ticket to the Qatar World Cup, the 78-year-old singer Dafydd Iwan went out on the pitch again, as before the game, to sing the Yma o Hyd (We’re still here), a hymn of Welsh resistance that he composed in 1983 and with which the Cardiff City Stadium was hoarse, which was still overflowing more than half an hour after they had defeated Ukraine. And yes, they had resisted, they had endured all the arrogance of the Ukrainians, who controlled the game, caused more danger and ended up desolate and proud, drenched in rain and crying, and applauded by their people and also by those who at first were not their people. “Please don’t forget what is happening in Ukraine these days,” asked coach Petrakov.
Hennessey, Ben Davies, Ampadu, Rodon, Joe Allen, Ramsey, Neco Williams (Norrington-Davies, min. 92), Roberts, Bale (Harry Wilson, min. 82), Daniel James (Brennan Johnson, min. 70) and Kieffer Moore
Bushchan, Karavaev, Illia Zabarnyi, Mykolenko, Matvyenko, Tsygankov (Mykhailo Mudryk, min. 76), Zinchenko, Stepanenko (S. Sydorchuk, min. 69), Malinovsky (Shaparenko, min. 69), Yarmolenko and Yaremchuk (Dovbyk, min. 76)
goals 1-0 min. 33: Yarmolenko (pp).
Yellow cards Joe Allen (min. 1), Daniel James (min. 2), Mykolenko (min. 31) and Mykhailo Mudryk (min. 93)
An afternoon of enormous emotional tension had concluded. On one side, Wales, for whom she already did too much last time, 64 years old. On the other, Ukraine, who played under the formidable uncertainty of not knowing if this would be their last time to try. The context, the invasion of Russia, the war, the devastation, everything; that landscape operated in the environment. It also beat on the terrace of the Sand Martin pub, a few meters from the stadium, where dozens of Welshmen whiled away the time hydrating before the match. With just over an hour to go, the Ukrainian national team bus passed by and the parishioners dropped their San Miguel pints and cans and applauded the rival’s slow pace towards the red cauldron of their stadium. There was something moving in that slide, in the applause as a tribute to a troop of uncertain destiny.
They also received a considerate reception on the pitch. Palms contained, and the “Ukraine, Ukraine” of the corner in which his people were located, about 2,000. But there the courtesies ended. There was a football game ahead. Under a fine and persistent rain scheduled for the time of the duel, after a weekend of short sleeves and packed parks in Cardiff. And the match was going to be rough, standing hard, crashing and a few kicks to ward off fear. Also to explore any crack, any neglect. In that, and in almost everything, the hungriest was Zinchenko, left back at City, interior, handle and push in Ukraine.
He dominated football and also its surroundings. When only two minutes had been played, the referee, Mateu Lahoz, called a foul thirty meters from Hennessy’s goal. While Bale protested and his teammates finished getting used to the idea that it had started, Zinchenko saw the goalkeeper out of place and kicked into the net. Mateu told him not to go so fast, that he hadn’t even sprayed the foam on the grass yet, and he ordered a repeat.
The one from City wanted the ticket to Qatar at all costs, perhaps more than anyone else on the pitch. He was also the one who best understood the game. He found space between the lines, managed time alongside Malinovskyi, spread the game and fired the ball as he threw Wales into disarray. With passes, with shots. Several of the best occasions were his, or from him. The stands were restless and anything relieved them before the shaking of the Ukraine. Corners were called goals, and Bale’s astonishing control of the area fired up enthusiasm. “Long live Gareth Bale”, like this, in Spanish. But the ball quickly slipped away.
Despite the downpour under the downpour, Wales found the goal earlier. Bale fouled the box and Yarmolenko headed it. At own door. The former Madridista ran to the stands to beat his chest with open arms. He took credit for the goal, as anyone in the stadium would be willing to take credit for it, a venue full of faith in him.
It was the first of three big races for the Welshman that afternoon. The second was when Mateu whistled the final whistle, with him already on the bench and under the tireless harassment of the Ukrainians, who hovered over the goal again and again. But they resisted, as the legendary Dafydd Iwan sang at the end. The third of the races was with his teammates towards the hottest bottom, to slide on the bellies and exhibit the relief of a victory that will take them to Qatar and left the beautiful dream of the Ukraine attacked a foot from the edge of the World Cup.