Scotland World Cup play-off: 'Pressure unfair - let Ukraine walk away and guarantee them place at 2026 tournament'

Scottish football legend Kenny Dalglish insists Ukraine should not be placed “under pressure in any way, shape or form” to fulfil their World Cup play-off semi-final against Steve Clarke’s men while a brutal war is being waged on them by Russia.

Ukraine are due to play Scotland in a World Cup play-off semi-final.
Ukraine are due to play Scotland in a World Cup play-off semi-final.

Furthermore, he has suggested that a possible way out of the football predicament for all involved parties created by the atrocities for which Vladimir Putin can be held directly responsible could come from granting Ukraine automatic qualification for the 2026 World Cup to be hosted by the USA and Canada.

The postponement of Scotland’s play-off semi-final from last month until early June could be considered no more than an exercise in buying time over an issue that will hardly be figuring in the minds of ordinary Ukrainians as their lives and homes are being systematically destroyed. Against such a backdrop, Dalglish suggests it would hardly sit well either to expect them to turn their attentions to a football game, or lose out on the chance of only a second World Cup appearance because of what is being inflicted on them. Instead, he believes Scotland should go forward to face Wales in a June play-off final while Ukraine are provided the assurance of knowing that a World Cup awaits them beyond their current horrors, with the 2026 edition likely to see the tournament expanded from 32 to 48 teams.

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“I don’t know what should be done, but you’ve got to have huge respect for the Ukrainian players and the football association,” Dalglish said. “It’s not their fault that they are in the position they are in. Some of the squad play elsewhere but they’ve still got families there that have been hugely affected by it. I think it’s unfair to put them under pressure in any way, shape or form. Maybe [give them] a wee olive branch and say, in the next World Cup you can go straight through, you don’t need to qualify.

“It would be a way of showing your respect for them and at the same time moving forward with this World Cup in Qatar. And people will say: how can they get that? Well, if you want to get your places bombed, your parents killed and your friends killed, that’s what you need to go through to get it. I just think it would be nice, if they want a solution, to give them that.”

Scotland had been due to face Ukraine at Hampden last month and since the postponement of the original date, both football federations and UEFA have been locked in discussions as to when the match could be played. With Wales awaiting the victor in the final, The Scotsman understands that the qualification-clinching match in Cardiff is slated for Tuesday, June 7, with an expectation that if Scotland v Ukraine does go ahead, it will be played on Tuesday, May 31. It has reported that Scottish Football Association chief executive Ian Maxwell has flown to Switzerland in the past 24 hours as discussions accelerate over the rescheduling of the match.

There are already four Scotland Nations League matches planned for the month of June – one of which is against Ukraine – and concessions may need to be made for those fixtures should the World Cup play-off be rearranged at the end of the domestic season.

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