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Oleksandr Zinchenko insists Ukraine will be preparing for the “game of their lives” when they face Italy next Monday in what could essentially be a play-off to qualify for Euro 2024.

Against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict with Russia, the national football team have provided brief moments of enjoyment for embattled Ukrainians.

Zinchenko will captain the team in the Group C fixture against Italy, held in Leverkusen as a “home” fixture for Ukraine – who have not played international football on their own soil in two years.

Ukraine fans have had to travel to see their team play “home” games since November 2021 (Nick Potts/PA)

If Italy beat North Macedonia on Friday night, the two nations will go into the final qualifier locked on 13 points behind England.

Reigning European champions Italy will hold a slight advantage following a 2-1 win at San Siro last September and with head-to-head records counting over goal difference.

But for Arsenal defender Zinchenko, the game means so much more to him and his compatriots.“It is going to be a massive game,” he said.“For sure it is going to be the game of our lives. Especially now, the toughest time since this country’s independence. To bring some positive news for Ukrainian people is so important.

“To play in the Euros is an amazing achievement already and especially now. We know that while we are wearing the Ukrainian shirt, it is absolutely the proudest moment of our lives.

“Since being a kid, you always dream of playing for the national team but especially now, with the war in our country, we understand completely that every single game, it doesn’t matter what one – even a friendly – when you win the game there are a lot of positives things for our people.”

Oleksandr Zinchenko has spoken openly about the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Nick Potts/PA)Zinchenko has been keen to use football as a driving force to shine a light on the tragedies in his homeland, raising money for the cause and speaking of the unity shared by all Ukrainians.

He added: “Is it hard to be a player knowing what is going on?“Or is is hard for the people who are staying on the front line and giving their lives for our independence, for our people. So, which way is harder? That is the answer.”

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