Ukraine and Scotland face off on the football field on Wednesday
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has had ripple effects for life across Europe, including the schedule for the run up to the World Cup, which kicks off in November in Qatar. Tomorrow, a big match - Ukraine versus Scotland. They are playing in Glasgow, so home pitch advantage to the Scots, although we wondered if even the most patriotic of Scots can find it in their hearts to root against Ukraine these days, a question I am going to put now to Alan Pattullo. He is a sports writer at The Scotsman newspaper, and he joins us now from Edinburgh.
Alan, hey there.
ALAN PATTULLO: Hi. Good evening, everyone.
KELLY: Hi. So how are people in Scotland feeling about the game? I mean, I know you can't root against your national team, but this is a tough one.
PATTULLO: No, it is. It's a particularly awkward assignment, I think, for the Scottish national team, for the Scotland manager, Steve Clarke. And he was obviously asked this question - how does he feel about what promises to be such an emotional night at Hampden Park tomorrow? And he answered by saying he urged the fans to respect the Ukrainian national anthem, to cheer it and applaud it. Steve Clarke just asked that it will be respected.
Of course, sometimes when Scotland are playing other opponents, you know, sometimes you do find the national anthem being jeered. Sometimes, you know, the fans are trying to create quite an intimidating atmosphere. But I think tomorrow night, I think you can be rest assured that every Scottish fan there at Hampden Park will be standing and respectfully observing the Ukrainian anthem.
KELLY: And just to be clear, only one team goes through. Whoever wins then plays Wales. Is that next?
PATTULLO: That's right. The winners will play Wales in Cardiff on Sunday night. It's a huge prize for Scotland because all wrapped up in this whole debate is the fact Scotland, who used to routinely qualify for World Cups back in the '70s and 1980s - Scotland haven't qualified for one since 1998. So there's huge anticipation on the part of the Scotland fans that they now stand just two steps away from this great goal.
KELLY: But I'm so glad you're pointing that out because whoever the opponent was, this is a huge game for Scotland, for national pride.
PATTULLO: Yes, of course. It really is. I cannot overstate how much the country is yearning, is aching to reach another World Cup. So much is wrapped around it. Our footballing heritage, our footballing reputation is staked on this, really - on reaching Qatar. And I think fans will think the players and team - that they deserve to get there. They are unbeaten in eight games, and a lot of the hope is currently wrapped up in the Scotland team. And I think it's - people will think this is the best chance of qualifying for a World Cup in a generation.
KELLY: What about the Ukraine team? War must have impacted their ability to train for this.
PATTULLO: Yes, that's right. And at least, well, several of the team won't have played a competitive football match since the end of last year, if you can believe it. So they have been in Slovenia, trying to get fit. But there are one or two players who have been playing in Europe. They've obviously been playing up until just last week or two weeks ago, so they will clearly be match fit. But there are several who are not and who have been, in some cases, stranded in Ukraine for many, many weeks following the Russian invasion in February.
KELLY: Well, I will note the odds are Scotland is favored to win. And I will end by saying I wish you both good luck. Good luck to your team. Good luck to Ukraine. May the best team win.
PATTULLO: Thank you very much. Thank you.
KELLY: We've been speaking with Alan Pattullo, sports writer at The Scotsman.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.