After a change in venue and a late threat of cancellation, the United States will face Ukraine in an international friendly in Cyprus on Wednesday.
International attention is currently focused squarely on the Eastern European nation, with Russian forces having taken control of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in reaction to the toppling of former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych. Russian President Vladimir Putin ruled out war on Tuesday, but reserved the right to use force as a last resort.
Politically wise, events on the soccer field are made even more interesting by Putin’s assertion over the U.S involvement in events in Ukraine. With concerns about the situation at home, the president of Ukraine’s football federation, Anatoliy Konkov, stated on Monday that the team would not travel to contest the fixture, which had already been moved from Kharkiv to Larnaca. But he quickly had a change of heart.
"After announcing our intention to cancel the flight to Cyprus for a friendly against the U.S. soccer team and with regard to the military aggression of Russian Federation in Ukraine's autonomous region of Crimea, I received numerous phone calls from public and football representatives who expressed various views on this decision," Konkov said, according to Reuters
"As a result we arrived on a common idea we should play the scheduled friendly with U.S. soccer team as they represent the country that stood up to defend our national interests and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
"This is a very important decision to raise the patriotic spirit of the Ukrainian people. It must unite the country and show the whole world how high our flag waves and how proudly sounds the anthem of the independent state."
It’s set to be an emotional moment for those in Ukrainian colors when their national anthem is played ahead of Wednesday’s match. It remains to be seen, however, to what degree the players’ minds will be focused on a match that, for Ukraine, has little sporting consequence.
Before the political events, an away match against Ukraine promised to be a serious test for a U.S. squad lacking several established names. Of the countries who missed out on Brazil, Ukraine perhaps came the closest to making it, having surrendered a 2-0 lead after the first leg of their playoff with France.
At first glance, Ukraine would not appear to bear any keen resemblance to any of the Americans' group opponents at the World Cup -- Ghana, Portugal or Germany. However, on closer inspection Ukraine pose some similar threats to those of the Portuguese. Like their second opponent in Brazil, the U.S. will pay close attention to Ukraine’s top wingers.
Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, while Ukraine have Yevhen Konplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko. Konoplyanka, while clearly not quite in the same league as superstar Ronaldo, has similar attributes to the Portuguese star -- cutting in from the left on his right foot and capable of scoring and creating.
For U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, it will be a final chance to look at his European-based players before he has to name his provisional squad for the World Cup on May 13. The hopefuls from Major League Soccer, like Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez, have been left out having been part of his January training camp and a 2-0 friendly win over South Korea last month. Klinsmann's squad has been rendered further inexperienced by the withdrawal of new Toronto FC signing Michael Bradley, although the Seattle Sounders’ Clint Dempsey is included, following his loan spell with Fulham.