The United States and Ukraine will do battle Wednesday in a friendly in Cyprus with both teams having very different outlooks on the future.
The Ukrainian team will perhaps be excused for not being fully focused on playing a game of football. On the back of a civil uprising and quickly approaching a major international conflict with Russia, sports might be the last thing on the players' minds.
But the Ukrainians have a chance to let their compatriots forget about their current predicament for 90 minutes by defending the colours of their nation with honour. Ukraine football association president Anatoliy Konkov confirmed the team will play, as shared by the Associated Press' Steve Busfield (via The Guardian): "(We) reached a consensus to play the USA after all. (They) stood behind us to protect the national interests and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
For the USA, this friendly is the perfect preparation for the upcoming World Cup as Ukraine barely missed qualification, courtesy of a freak game against France. The Ukrainians are definitely talented and will give the team some notion of what to expect this summer.
Here are a few key players for both teams:
Aron Johannsson, USA
American Soccer Now agrees:
Aron Johannsson is lucky to play in the Dutch Eredivisie, a league notorious for bad defending and plenty of goals. According to CompareTheLeagues.com, the Eredivisie currently has the second-highest scoring rate in all of Europe, with only the Estonian league doing worse.
The youngster's talent is obviously there, but he needs to show coach Jurgen Klinsmann his good form can continue against solid opposition, and the Ukrainian team will give him that chance.
If Johannsson can put together a convincing performance against a strong opponent, he'll make a strong case to start for the U.S. this summer.
Yevhen Konoplyanka, Ukraine
This game is a friendly, and in friendlies the result usually doesn't matter all that much. Team USA will be testing out new combinations, figuring out who should go to Brazil and what will and won't work against a good team.
Ukraine needs a win. Badly.
The loss to France still lingers with the team, and it's important for a young squad to get back to its winning ways. Add to that the team will be playing for a nation of people going through hardship, and it becomes even clearer these people need a victory in the worst way.
Yevhen Konoplyanka is the team's most famous player—its brightest star. The Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk midfielder played well against Tottenham Hotspur and is enjoying another fine season. We Are LFC Fans were impressed with his performance on the big stage
By the looks of things, Konoplyanka was most certainly the best signing we missed out on in january, pacey... http://t.co/CXR7AKxmk6— We are LFC Fans (@WerLFCFans) February 27, 2014
Ukraine aren't a one-man show, but the team's success is very dependent on the performance of their young star. For his country to win, Konoplyanka will need to step up in a big way.
Clint Dempsey, USA
Clint Dempsey is the team's biggest name and one of its top players, but the 2013-14 season has not been kind to him. The Tottenham-Seattle-Fulham debacle and his long absence from the national team beg the question whether this is still the same Dempsey we've come to know and love.
The captain needs a big game in the worst way, to prove he's not joining the team in Brazil just because he's Dempsey. The U.S. will need Dempsey this summer, and his teammates need to believe he can lead this team to victory. Building that trust will start against Ukraine.
Andriy Pyatov and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Ukraine
We're putting these two together as their situations are quite similar: both are veteran players who enjoy the respect of their teammates. Both will be fighting to keep their starting spots on the squad as the team looks to qualify for Euro 2016.
More importantly, both just got trashed with their respective clubs in international competition.
Andriy Pyatov's Shakhtar Donetsk were amongst the favourites to win the Europa League before getting knocked out by Viktoria Plzen. The stopper didn't look at all convincing and WhoScored.com awarded him with the lowest score of the game as a result.
Anatoliy Tymoshchuk's Zenit St Petersburg conceded four goals on their home ground, courtesy of Borussia Dortmund. The midfielder was tasked with replacing Andrey Arshavin and put together an absolutely dreadful 45 minutes.
Both need to bounce back with solid performances against the USA, or people will start to wonder whether it's time to complete the youth movement the team started a few years back and replace these veterans with some young talent.