Ukraine-U.S. friendly still on despite contrary reports and numerous disruptions
The weeklong game of "will they or won't they" around the U.S.-Ukraine friendly appears to have finally reached its conclusion, with U.S. Soccer confirming via Twitter that the Ukrainian players still plan on traveling to Cyprus for the match on Wednesday evening.
On #USAvUKR: "The Football Federation of Ukraine confirmed that their team will travel to Cyprus and the match will proceed as scheduled."
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) March 4, 2014
Why was such a Twitter update necessary? Let's recap.
On January 16th, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced a friendly against Ukraine, the highest-ranked country not to qualify for the World Cup. The game, set to take place in Kharkiv, would represent the United States' first time traveling to Ukraine for a match. So far, so good.
In the ensuing weeks, the Euromaidan protests that had been brewing in the country began to swell in intensity and scope, turning violent at the end of February. Police clashed with protestors and people lost their lives in fiery battles in Kiev's Independence Square. Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych fled the capital in Kiev to the game's host city of Kharkiv, then eventually to Russia.
On February 25th, in response to the growing civil unrest in the country, U.S. Soccer announced that the friendly would be moved to the supposedly safer confines of Cyprus. Three days later, the referee slated to officiate the match had his car bombed, which caused Cyprus to suspend all its first-division matches.
Then, earlier on Monday, after Russia approved sending its troops into Ukraine, the president of Ukraine's soccer federation had this to say to TV channel ICTV, according to Reuters:
"If we do not have an opportunity to play on home soil, why shall we go to Cyprus in those troubled times for your country? We play for our people and country. Our team do not fly to Cyprus and stay at home."
This must have come as something of a surprise to the U.S. contingent, with U.S. Soccer releasing the following statement in the aftermath:
“We have been in contact with the Football Federation of Ukraine and are awaiting final confirmation that the team is still planning to travel to Cyprus for the match.”
The Tweet at the top of this post came a few hours later. And that pretty much brings us up to date. There's no question that the importance of any soccer game -- let alone a friendly -- pales in comparison to any conflict situation where lives are lost and more are at stake. But for the moment, it appears as if this game will go on when it was originally scheduled to, though not in the same location.