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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Ukraine head coach Oleksandr Petrakov says he is too old to fight on the front line but is still trying to help his country in another way.

Soccer, he believes, can play its part in the effort to defeat Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine’s football federation is looking ahead to a time when the war is over and the Russian invasion has been repelled. This week it announced it would join Spain and Portugal’s bid to host the 2030 World Cup.

On Sunday Petrakov was in Frankfurt for the Euro 2024 qualifying draw – but he admits he cannot think what life will be like by the time the tournament kicks off in Germany.

Ending the war – rather than qualification – is his priority, but he still wants to use soccer to raise the morale of those fighting for Ukraine.

“We have a connection with the guys on the front line because they send messages to the players,” said Petrakov. “We feel they need our victory … it is important for everybody to raise the spirits.”

Petrakov is 65 years old so he was free to leave Ukraine after the Russian invasion in February. But he chose to remain in his homeland along with his family.

“I cannot be in the military because of my age and I don’t have any special skills, but still I stay in Ukraine,” he said. “We live our lives day by day. Any day you never know what could happen because the people who are against us could do anything. Every day many people die in our country, it is hard to say what it will be like in 2024. I cannot predict.”

On the soccer field, Ukraine has a difficult task qualifying for Germany after being drawn in the same group as Euro 2020 finalists Italy and England. North Macedonia and Malta are also in the group.

Ukraine, which missed out on the upcoming World Cup when it was defeated by Wales in the playoffs, will likely have to play its home games at a neutral venue due to the war. It has been playing in Poland since the invasion.

“For my guys it is difficult,” Petrakov said. “They do not see their families. They want to finish the war as soon as possible and play in front of our fans in Kyiv, Lviv, maybe Kharkiv, we don’t know.

“It is more important to finish the war and stop killing people. That is most important for us.”

Russia has been banned from competing by FIFA and UEFA and Petrakov insists the sanctions must continue.

“We have said before, ‘How can they compete when their military kill our children, kill our women and kill our men?’” he said. “The rules decide that they cannot compete when they are acting like this.

“We have already said it, we are totally against it, so we hope it will not be allowed till the end of the war. Russians have supported Putin and they have shown it clearly, so it is not possible.”


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