Scotland captain Andy Robertson admits his side “didn’t show up” as Ukraine ended their World Cup hopes at an emotionally-charged Hampden Park.
Worldwide attention was on the game due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February but, despite the distractions of that conflict, when the focus turned to football it was the visitors in Glasgow who were the more accomplished.
Scotland’s 39-year-old ‘keeper Craig Gordon kept the visitors at bay only until the 33rd minute when skipper Andriy Yarmolenko deservedly put Ukraine ahead and Roman Yaremchuk doubled that lead with a header three minutes after the break.
Midfielder Callum McGregor pulled a goal back in the 79th minute as Steve Clarke’s men rallied but it was too little too late and Ukraine substitute Artem Dovbyk drove in a breakaway third in added time to book a place against Wales in the final play-off in Cardiff on Sunday.
Robertson awned Sky Sports: “It’s hugely disappointing as we’ve waited a long time for this game. Our performances beforehand were really good but to be honest we didn’t really show up.
“Ukraine settled into the game a lot quicker than us and it kind of just continued. We knew they were probably going to get tired and that was the case but we gave ourselves an uphill battle.
“We had to try and stay in the game but we didn’t manage that. We left ourselves open to the counter-attack as we had to push for a goal. We didn’t play the way we wanted to play and unfortunately, it’s past us by.
“After the really positive campaign, we’ve let ourselves down tonight. It’s taken us 11 games to get here, after a positive campaign.
“Finishing second and getting a home play-off, it’s going to hurt. We need to reflect on tonight and tomorrow’s a new day. That’s the World Cup gone for another four years and we all have dreams of trying to play in that big tournament and we didn’t put in a performance to justify that tonight.
“But we have to stick together. We know there will be scrutiny coming our way and we know we’ll be under fire as that’s the way of it but we have to stick together as a group.
“We’ve taken massive strides and there will be a time to take perspective on that but tonight is not the night. All we can say is sorry to the fans in here and back home for disappointing them but we’ll just have to dust ourselves down and go again.”
Zinchenko: We have a dream to be at the World Cup
After their first defeat in nine games, Clarke’s squad now has to regroup and somehow get ready for the Nations League opener against Armenia at Hampden Park next week.
The night had promised Scotland so much but Ukraine, backed by around 3,500 fans, deserved their victory having started with six players who have not played a competitive game in 2022.
Oleksandr Zinchenko was man of the match and the Manchester City full-back told Sky Sports: “Everyone knows the situation in Ukraine and every game is like a final. We have a dream as a team to be at the World Cup.
“We have one more game, one more final and we need to win it. Otherwise, this game won’t mean anything.
“Scotland is a great team and have unbelievable players in each line. But we did well. We scored three and could have scored more.
“The Wales game is going to be massive for us. We need to show our best performance in our lives and then we’ll see what happens.”
Clarke: We can’t forget the strides we’ve made
Scotland were unbeaten in 12 home games at Hampden Park coming into this match (W8 D4); Ukraine has ended Scotland’s longest home unbeaten run since May 1978 (16 games).
They have now failed to qualify for any of the last six World Cup tournaments since appearing at the 1998 edition. Between 1974 and 1998 they missed only one of seven tournaments.
Manager Steve Clarke told Sky Sports: “It’s a disappointing night. We have to be honest, the best team on the night won. Congratulations to Ukraine. I wish them luck when they go to Cardiff. You have to wish the Welsh luck as well. It should be a great game.
“First half I don’t think we played enough, we didn’t get the ball down. I made the change at half-time but we didn’t give ourselves the chance to use that change because we were 2-0 down very early in the second half. We showed character, we had a go. John missed a good chance. It’s Ukraine’s night, not Scotland’s.
“Now is the night to suffer. But we can’t forget the strides we’ve made over the last three years. We qualified for Euro 2020, we got to the play-off stage for the World Cup. We can be sad together for a couple of days but then we need to start building for the next campaign. When you lose a game of this magnitude it does hurt.”
Analysis: ‘Ukraine made Scotland look pedestrian’
Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness:
“Scotland got themselves back into the game and in the last 20 minutes, we had the right to say ‘if only…’ their goalkeeper doesn’t look like he’s up to playing at this level but across most of the game we were second fiddle.
“You’ve got to give Ukraine credit for the way they’ve come into the lion’s den and performed.
“We can point to McGregor’s block on the goalkeeper which could’ve easily gone in, McGinn’s got to score with his header but I think it would’ve created a false picture had we got something from this game.
“Ukraine looked a really good outfit and they made us look pedestrian for most of the first half. They could’ve put the game to bed long before the third went in.
“Zinchenko ran the show and I don’t think there were any surprises in what we saw from him tonight. The way he plays at Man City, he flips in and out of playing as a left-back and in the center of midfield.
“When he goes into midfield, he’s a really good footballer and he was the catalyst for Ukraine keeping the ball, threading it through when the time was right.
“He played like a seasoned midfielder. I’m reluctant to be harsh on Scotland as we play with spirit but we didn’t have the quality to match Ukraine in vital areas.
“It saddens me to say this but we just weren’t good enough.”
Sky Sports’ Ally McCoist:
“Let’s be frank about it, Ukraine deserved it. They have been clinical – they could’ve been more clinical to be honest. Ukraine were better than Scotland, who huffed in the second half when they got into them. Scotland scored and put Ukraine under a bit of pressure. But all in all, no complaints. The better team won.
“I don’t think it was a case of the occasion being too big for some of the players, I just think it’s the brutal fact that Scotland has been beaten by a far better team.
“We’re a good side but we were beaten tonight by a very good side who were better than I thought they would be.
“It was a brave and bold decision to play two up front which I don’t think worked for us. When you do that, they dominated the middle of the park and they utilized that very well.
“The two players wide would start high up the park and drop into areas and outnumber us in the middle. They were very clever and Zinchenko was the best player on the park. He was absolutely outstanding.”
Wales will now play Ukraine in Cardiff on Sunday in the World Cup final play-off. The game is live on Sky Sports Football from 4pm, kick-off 5pm.