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'Love and pride' as Ukraine prepare for Women's Futsal EURO action

Ukraine captain Iuliia Forsiuk explains how the squad has prepared for the finals amid unthinkable disruption.

Ukraine players together with the Italy team as they met in a June friendly
Ukraine players together with the Italy team as they met in a June friendly Getty Images

Ukraine were entering the final stages of their preparations for the finals when the Russian invasion disrupted far more than the scheduling of some futsal matches.

Players’ lives were turned upside down by the conflict and safety was suddenly the only priority. Thanks to the efforts of the Futsal Association of Ukraine (FAU), and aided by other nations and clubs, the players were able to find teams to train with, but that still left plenty of work to do.

"Every member of our team had different difficulties," captain Iuliia Forsiuk says. "The main problem is that we haven’t played all season. What began in our country on 24 February destroyed our plans. The championship was stopped, most of the girls left Ukraine. It was great that teams from different countries gave us the opportunity to train or play, but it’s different to training as one team throughout the season. The girls are not in their best physical and psychological condition, but we will work for a good result."

Read the official tournament programme

What it means, with Ukraine captain Iuliia Forsiuk

"The EURO is a career event – the pinnacle of my journey. This is what you strive for. My best memory from 2019 was before the semi-final against Portugal. It was the first time I had played in such a big arena, on such a beautiful pitch and with so many people in the stands.

"It was a dream to play in a tournament like that. You feel like Ricardinho! It was incredibly emotional seeing yourself on the big screen while the Ukrainian anthem was playing, but you have to overcome that and focus on the game.

"Futsal is our way of showing our love and pride for the Ukrainian people and to show Europe their pain. We hope that the focus on Ukraine will make us stronger and will help Ukrainian players and our nation in the future. There is a war in our country and the national team went through a lot of hardship on the way to this tournament. But we are ready to play and represent Ukraine."

Getting ready for Gondomar

Ukraine line up before their main round Group 3 match against Czech Republic
Ukraine line up before their main round Group 3 match against Czech RepublicUAF

Ukraine's preparations began in earnest when the squad gathered in San Marino on 3 June for a series of camps. They moved on to Italy, France and finally Portugal for a series of 40 training sessions and several friendlies, slowly regrouping after an unimaginable period.

The selection includes goalkeeper Viktoriia Sahaidachna, Kseniia Hrytsenko and Iuliia Tytova, who all made the 2019 Team of the Tournament as Ukraine finished fourth, only late goals giving their 5-1 semi-final defeat by hosts Portugal a lopsided look.

Also remaining from that squad are Snezhana Volovenko and Iryna Dubytska while young players have emerged like Kseniia Burlachenko, with Sofia Ruban and Taisiia Babenko also bolstering the selection.

Ukraine faced Portugal in a friendly last Friday
Ukraine faced Portugal in a friendly last FridayUAF

However, qualifying top scorer Anna Shulha is injured. Ukraine will be under no illusion as to what awaits them against Spain in the semi-finals; they have lost all their previous meetings and in January the European champions travelled to Kyiv and won two friendlies 7-0 and 3-1.

Those results, of course, pale into insignificance compared to what has happened since. Forsiuk, alongside team-mate Hrytsenko, joined Tenerife club Costa Sur, but their thoughts have always been with their homeland.

"Representing Ukraine is always prestigious and people show you respect," she says. "During such a hard time we have an opportunity to represent Ukraine and I hope that we will have good tournament and that more people will pay attention to our country."

Meet the four Women's Futsal EURO teams