Budding superstar Brazhko understands the importance of Ukraine qualifying for EURO 2024 tonight

Fresh off his first ever cap for Ukraine’s national football team, Volodymyr Brazhko knows exactly why tonight’s critical EURO 2024 qualification playoff versus Iceland is so important.

“Making the EUROs will help the world to not forget about Ukraine,” he told NV.

“We want to remind people about what’s happening in our country and for the world to continue to help us.”

Read also: Supercomputer bets on Ukraine in decisive Euro 2024 final qualifier against Iceland

Ukraine is just one game away from being able to amplify their country’s continued plight to a global audience of hundreds of millions should they secure their ticket to this summer’s European Championships tonight. Sport has a unique power of getting messages across to different groups of people, especially those who may not keep up to date with current affairs and politics.

As Russian missiles and drone attacks continue to terrorize Ukrainian cities daily amidst devastating ammunition shortages which prevent effective retaliation, it’s vital for head coach Serhiy Rebrov’s men to get past Iceland to ensure the country’s visibility is front and center at one of t2024’s biggest sporting events.

Dynamo Kyiv defensive midfielder Volodymyr Brazhko debuted for the Ukraine national team against Bosnia and Herzegovina in the EURO 2020 playoff semi-final last Thursday. He played 80 minutes in Zenica (Bosnia), starting at the base of midfield before dropping into the middle of a back three for the majority of the second half.

Read also: Soccer returns to Kyiv: Dynamo to play in front of fans after invasion hiatus

He was replaced by ‘super sub’ Roman Yaremchuk, who scored the equalizer within five minutes from coming on before setting up Artem Dovbyk’s winner three minutes later.

It was clear how proud Brazhko was to receive his first senior international cap after recent success for the U21s. Beaming with a wide grin and a twinkle in his eye, he admitted that the emotions he felt last week were incredible.

“It was a childhood dream of mine,” he told NV.

“I worked hard for it; to reach this goal, and I must not stop now. I need to keep working further to establish myself at a consistently high level.”

That joy was tempered, however.

As the Dynamo Kyiv man awoke in his Sarajevo hotel on the Friday following the Bosnia victory, he was greeted with news that his hometown of Zaporizhzhya had been ravaged by yet another mass Russian missile attack in the early hours of the morning.

Read also: ‘Bring happiness to the people of Ukraine’ – coach Rebrov on Ukraine’s improbable comeback vs Bosnia

This time the Russians had targeted the country’s largest hydroelectric power station which sits on a dam that connects two sides of the city where Brazkho had grown up.

Over the past two years, Zaporizhzhya has consistently been one of the Ukrainian cities most heavily affected by Russian missile and shelling attacks, due to its proximity to the active frontline.

Just last year, Torpedo Stadium, where the midfielder used to train and play as a child, was heavily damaged by Russian artillery.

Brazkho’s grandparents still live there.

“I’m always following the situation across Ukraine and in particular Zaporizhzhya because of my grandma and grandad,” he said.

“I always call them, to ask if everything is ok.”

“Of course, events like this take up a substantial part of your mental capacity,” he admitted shortly before suiting up to train for tonight’s game.

“You’re taken over by the negative emotions and think about it often. However, there comes a point where prior to a game you need to put this all to one side; get it out of your head and focus solely on the match ahead.”

This is the attitude the entire squad will hope to take on for 90 minutes tonight to ensure that by qualifying for EURO 2024 they can continue to share the stories of what’s happening to cities like Zaporizhzhya to the countless viewers of the world’s popular sport at this summer’s finals in Germany.

Since Friday, the Ukraine squad have been preparing for Iceland at a secluded and idyllic training base in Opalenica, around 30 miles west of the city of Poznan.

Read also: Serhiy Rebrov finalizes Ukraine’s squad for Euro 2024 qualifying game against England

Speaking from there, Brazkho agrees that the final won’t be easy.

“It’s going to be tough,” he told NV.

Teammate Yukhym Konoplya shared that sentiment when assessing the upcoming challenge to YouTube channel “Vzbirna”.

“Iceland is Bosnia multiplied by three,” he said.

“They are disciplined and are physically better prepared than the Bosnians.”

Despite this, Brazhko understands that once kickoff arrives at the 42,000 capacity Tarczynski Arena in Wroclaw tonight, his side will have all the motivation and support it needs not only from the Ukrainians in the stands (an estimated five million of whom live in Poland) but also from those further afield.

“Members of the military write to us so much,” he shared.

“Many of them congratulated us after the Bosnia win on social media. They’re also always asking us to help with various collections for equipment and supplies that they need.”

Brazkho and his teammates regularly share such fundraisers on their Instagram pages.

Ukraine’s matchwinner against Bosnia, Artem Dovbyk, has on more than one occasion publicly donated a number of vehicles and funds to help soldiers from his native Cherkasy Oblast.

It’s very likely that Brazkho wouldn’t have even been included in this window’s senior squad had Shakhtar’s veteran defensive midfielder Taras Stepanenko been fit to travel.

Read also: Rebrov reveals Ukraine’s squad for Euro 2024 qualifiers, Malinovskyi cut from team

His usual replacement Serhiy Sydorchuk was expected to deputize for him in the starting eleven against Bosnia. However, to many people’s surprise – including the player himself – ex-Spurs center forward and current national team head coach Serhiy Rebrov opted to go with youth over experience instead.

Not only has Brazkho seemingly pushed former Dynamo captain Serhiy Sydorchuk down to third in Rebrov’s defensive midfield preferences, but he has also become the Kyiv’s side’s new number 6 after the same Sydorchuk departed for Belgium in September of last year.

He then became the club’s third youngest captain when taking the armband in a league fixture against Shakhtar in November at just 21 years old.

Up until this international break, he’d also been the captain of the Under-21 national side. If Brazhko is to start again tonight, there’d be good reason to expect Rebrov to take the player to Germany in the summer if the blue-and-yellows are to get past Iceland.

Brazhko, who could very well become a Ukraine captain in the future if his career maintains its trajectory, understands how vital it is for his country to secure Euro 2024 qualification tonight.

“Of course, we play for our Armed Forces first and foremost as they are the ones who defend our country,” he said.

“We are very grateful to them and want to thank them with our performance on the pitch against Iceland and by making the EUROs!” 

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