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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Poland To Refuse To Play Russia in World Cup Qualifier After Ukraine Invasion

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Poland have announced they do not intend to play their World Cup play-off match next month against Russia following the latter’s invasion of Ukraine.

UEFA took one match away from Russia following the invasion but stopped short of kicking them out of qualifying for the World Cup.

That means Russia are still included alongside Sweden, Czech Republic and Poland in Path B of the European play-offs, with the latter scheduled to take on the former on 24 March in Moscow.

Should Russia beat Poland, they would meet the winner of Sweden v Czech Republic in a one-off final five days later to reach the Qatar showpiece, but Polish FA president Cezary Kulesza has tweeted his side no longer plan on taking part in the first place.

‘No more words, time to act!’ Kulesza said. ‘Due to the escalation of the aggression of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine, the Polish national team does not intend to play the play-off match against Russia.

‘This is the only right decision. We are in talks with the Swedish and Czech Republic federations to present a common position to FIFA.’

Responding to Kulesza’s statement, the Polish striker at Germany’s most famous club in Bayern Munich, Robert Lewandowski – who also captains his country – said: ‘It is the right decision!

‘I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues.

Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.’

The news comes just a day after the three federations of Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic released a joint statement demanding clarity on the situation in Ukraine, with ‘alternative solutions’ offered immediately.

‘Based on the current alarming development in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, including the security situation the Football Associations of Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic express their firm position that the playoff matches to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, scheduled for 24 and 29 March 2002, should not be played in the territory of the Russian Federation,’ a statement read.

‘The signatories to this appeal do not consider travelling to Russia and playing football matches there.

‘The military escalation that we are observing entails serious consequences and considerably lower safety for our national football teams and official delegations.

‘Therefore, we expect FIFA and UEFA to react immediately and to present alternative solutions regarding places where these approaching playoff matches could be played.’

FIFA are looking at the situation with ‘urgency’, president Gianni Infantino revealed on Thursday, and while revealing hopes of a resolution by March, the body is yet to respond to the request of the three countries.

‘FIFA condemns the use of force by Russia in Ukraine and any type of violence to resolve conflicts,’ a statement on Thursday read.

‘Violence is never a solution and FIFA calls on all parties to restore peace through constructive dialogue.

‘FIFA also continues to express our solidarity to the people affected by this conflict. Regarding football matters in both Ukraine and Russia, and updates in relation to the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers will be communicated in due course.’

Scotland are also set to host Ukraine at Hampden Park in the same stage of the road to Qatar play-offs next month but the fixture is in doubt after the Ukrainian football league was paused for at least 30 days.

UEFA meanwhile have taken some form of action in response to the crisis by stripping Saint Petersburg of the Champions League final, with the Stade de France in Paris now set to host the event in May.

UEFA confirmed European club football’s showpiece occasion on Saturday, May 28 will be moved from the Gazprom Arena in the Russian city after an emergency meeting of its executive committee was convened this morning.

The Kremlin reacted to the decision soon afterwards, claiming that St Petersburg would have offered ‘the best possible conditions’ for the showpiece event.

‘It is a shame that such a decision was made,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

‘Saint Petersburg could have provided the best possible conditions for holding this football event.’

The UK government immediately endorsed the decision to strip Russia of the final. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: ‘I welcome UEFA’s decisive action to strip St Petersburg of staging this year’s Champions League Final.

‘Russia must not be allowed to exploit sporting and cultural events on the world stage to legitimise its unprovoked, premeditated and needless attack against a sovereign democratic state.’

Russian and Ukrainian club and national teams will play home games at neutral venues, UEFA also announced.

Russia’s military have bared down on Kyiv today in an apparent bid to seize the capital and ‘decapitate’ the government in the hopes of bringing a swift victory for Putin.

But Putin’s men seemed set to face bloody street-to-street fighting as Ukrainian troops tasked with the city’s defence began setting up defensive positions across highways, on bridges and on street corners with gunfire and explosions heard in the centre of the capital. Civilians were also being armed with rifles and Molotov cocktails.

Russian forces were sustaining heavy casualties across the country with Ukraine claiming to have killed 2,800 men – as Putin himself made an appeal to Ukrainian forces to turn on their ‘drug-addicted neo-Nazi’ leaders or else lay down their arms and go home.

But there seemed little chance of that, as President Zelensky told his men ‘you are all we have’ as he gave a rousing address to defend the country, called on citizens to travel from elsewhere in Europe to join the battle, and hit out at the West for leaving him to face down the might of Russia ‘alone’.

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