World Cup First For Ukraine

Jubilant Ukrainian fans drenched their players in Soviet Champagne on Sunday after the team returned to Kiev with a ticket to the World Cup finals for the first time in the nation's history.

Despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday, Ukraine qualified for next year's finals in Germany as winners of Group Two after second-placed Turkey could only manage a 2-2 draw with Denmark later in the evening.

"We have achieved today what we have been dreaming about so long," said fan Kostiantyn. "Our dreams have come true -- we have qualified for the World Cup."

Ukrainians have played at World Cups as part of Soviet Union teams but since the collapse of communism in 1991 they have failed to qualify for any major international tournament.

"It is impossible to put into words the feeling and excitement about the result we have already achieved," said goalkeeper Olexander Shovkovsky. "We have achieved the goal that other generations of Ukrainian footballers only dreamt of."

Big screens were set up in cities across the country for fans to watch the Georgia-Ukraine game. Around 10,000 gathered round the giant TV screen in central Kiev, waving flags and beating drums.

Knowing that despite the disappointing draw in Tbilisi they still had a chance of qualifying that night depending on other results, they moved on to sports bars to watch Turkey draw 2-2 at home to Denmark.

That result was enough to book a place at the finals and some fans headed to the airport to greet their players as they returned from Tbilisi in the early hours of Sunday.

Television pictures showed around 1,000 fans pouring Soviet Champagne over players, who danced around in a circle celebrating. Other fans took to the streets into the night, beating drums and waving flares, chanting "Ukraine! Ukraine!".

"My spirit and heart are experiencing unusual enthusiasm and great happiness today," said football federation chief Grigory Surkis. "I believe that in Germany in a year's time they will perform very well."

Wednesday's home tie against Turkey promises more celebrations, with even a much-needed win for the visitors unlikely to dampen spirits in Kiev.


not shown