LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) - Ukraine’s national football team gave its troubled country something to cheer about on Wednesday when it beat the United States 2-0 in an international friendly.
The match had been overshadowed by the turmoil in Ukraine and its players said before the game that they were dedicating it to their people back home. The friendly was shifted from Kharkiv to Cyprus due to the political protests that have followed Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.
Andriy Yarmolenko scored in the 12th minute and Marko Devic in the 68th as Ukraine exposed the shaky American central defense of Oguchi Onyewu and Anthony Brooks.
Ukraine coach Mykhailo Fomenko said the troubles at home were on his players’ minds but he was satisfied with the result.
“Of course we do it for our supporters, for our country,” Fomenko said. “I asked (the players) to make our people happy, we had to show that we’re all united.”
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said his team’s thoughts go out to the Ukrainian people.
“This whole build-up you feel for that country, you feel for that nation and there’s nothing more than wishing them well and to solve these issues peacefully, this is certainly what we wish them, what we pray for them,” Klinsmann said.
Before kickoff, Ukraine players linked arms on shoulders during their national anthem and both teams bowed their heads for a moment’s silence for victims of the violence in Ukraine. A banner in the stands read “Ukraine is Undivided!” on the top and “One Country - One Team!” on the bottom.
The crowd of 1,573 at Papadopoulos Stadium, which has a capacity of about 10,000, was so small that players could be heard talking with each other during the game. Ukrainian fans sang their nation’s anthem in the final moments.
“Our country is facing difficult times now, we must support our team and our country,” said Oleg Ivanovskyi a fan from Kiev currently residing in Larnaca. “Ukraine lives and will live. This friendly match is important for us to show the friendship between the U.S. and Ukraine. The friendship between the two countries is more important than the score.”
After the match, some Ukrainian fans broke into a chant of “No war in Ukraine!”
The opening goal came in the 12th minute when Andriy Yarmolenko pounced on the rebound after an initial shot by Denys Garmash was parried by goalkeeper Tim Howard.
A speedy run down the middle by substitute Marko Devic in the 68th caught the U.S. defense flatfooted and the Rubin Kazan forward scored at the second attempt when Howard again blocked the initial shot.
“It’s understandable that collectively, it’s not clicking, it would be half a miracle if we would click,” Klinsmann said of a defense that was playing together for the first time. “It was difficult for a lot of players to get into a rhythm.”
Klinsmann said the game offered him the chance to glean valuable information about individual players and the team to better prepare for the World Cup in Brazil.
“I think it would be totally wrong to criticize what went wrong,” he said. “It’s still a lot of work to be done and a lot to build on.”
Ukraine could have scored in the 30th minute when Yarmolenko finished a powerful run down the right wing with a low, hard shot that just missed the far post.
Two minutes later, a defense-splitting pass put Garmash through on the break, but he hesitated to shoot and allowed the U.S. defense to rush back, while his pass to an umarked Roman Zozulya inside the box was ruled offside.
The Americans picked up their game in the second half and dictated the early pace, leading to a flurry of chances - starting in the 49th when an Alejandro Bedoya volley was blocked in front of goal.
A header from Jozy Altidore sailed just over the bar a couple of minutes later while a close-range effort by Clint Dempsey in the 53rd was well-smothered by Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov.
Ukraine came back strongly later in the half and missed several good chances, including a Yarmolenko shot from 20 yards (meters) out in the 73rd that forced a good save from Howard.
The Everton keeper almost got caught out of position in the 77th, when he slipped but managed to save another lobbed shot from Yarmolenko.
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