Monday 04 July 2022, 06:30

FIFA-based Ukrainian women play special game in Liechtenstein

  • Zhytlobud-1 Kharkiv U21 have been training at FIFA headquarters the last four months

  • Players and coach have been living in Switzerland since leaving Ukraine

  • FIFA has been supporting the players continue their football training, and studies

Ruggell in Liechtenstein was the venue for a football match with a difference on Sunday 3 July. National representative teams do not often play club sides, yet, for once, traditions were put to one side. The Liechtenstein women’s national team played their first international in April 2021, the culmination of almost 18 months of preparatory work. In early 2020, the national association (LFV) announced the creation of a women’s national team – a good six years after the first international appearance of the country’s U-16 side. The foundations laid by clubs and the national association were finally bearing fruit.

Liechtenstein's opponents, were the U-21 team from one of Ukraine's top women's football clubs, Zhytlobud-1 Kharkiv, who have been training at FIFA headquarters in Zurich and continuing their studies in Switzerland, as part of FIFA's response to the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country. The team, who play in the second tier of the Ukrainian women's league were preparing for the second half of the 2021-22 season and had played a preparatory match on 23 February, the day before the invasion took place. Although the girls are happy to be in a safe place, most are in Switzerland without other family members.

The team’s coach Anna Pokus, who holds a UEFA C-license, trains the team every day at FIFA headquarters where they also have lunch together. Some players already joined local clubs for some training sessions and games. The players, who received laptops from FIFA or their host families, are continuing their Ukrainian school or university studies online and took their exams in June. They are also taking part in a course to learn German, English and some basic facts about Switzerland, where they have been given S-category residence permits, which are awarded to people in need of protection.

The players still dream about one day representing the senior side in the UEFA Women's Champions League. WFK Zhytlobud -1 Kharkiv played in a group with PSG, Real Madrid and Breidablik in the 2021-2022 competition and some members of the U-21 team were assigned as ball girls at the Metalist stadium. Several have played for Ukraine at youth level. The team travelled to Italy in May to play in a tournament with teams from Italy, Montenegro and Cyprus, their first matches since the invasion, and they also attended the UEFA Women’s' Champions League final in Turin between Barcelona and Olympique Lyonnais. A fortnight ago, the team travelled to the Swiss capital, where they took part in a friendly tournament which included FC Helvetia, the female football team of the Swiss national parliament, as well as FIFA's women's staff team.

FIFA has been active to help since the invasion took place. The FIFA Foundation organised several shipments of essential goods, including medical supplies, blankets, female sanitary pads and baby products. Besides these humanitarian activities, FIFA has also adopted a series of temporary regulatory measures with the aim of effectively assisting players, clubs and coaches impacted by the war in Ukraine.