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Poland, Sweden refuse to play World Cup qualifier with Russia

Poland and Sweden will not play a Qatar 2022 playoff in March in Moscow after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Poland players with president of the Polish Football Association Cezary Kulesza.
The president of the Polish Football Association, Cezary Kulesza, said the decision was taken 'in light of the escalation of the Russian Federation's aggression against Ukraine' [Kacper Pempel/Reuters]

Poland will not play its football World Cup qualifier against Russia next month following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“In light of the escalation of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine, the Polish national team is not going to play a match against Russian Republic,” the president of the Polish Football Association, Cezary Kulesza, said on Saturday.

It is the “only correct decision,” he said.

Moscow is scheduled to host Poland in the semi-finals of its strand of the World Cup playoffs on March 24 and, if its team advances, is scheduled to host either Sweden or the Czech Republic on March 29 in the Path B final.

Kulesza added the association was in talks with Swedish and Czech associations to present a common position to FIFA.

Polish national team players also took to social media to express their support for the move.

National team captain Robert Lewandowski said he couldn’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,” he wrote on Twitter.

Kamil Glik, Mateusz Klich, Matty Cash and other players said it was not an easy decision but “there are more important things in life than football”.

They also expressed solidarity with Ukraine “and our friend from the national team, Tomasz Kedziora, who is still in Kyiv with his family”.

Sweden later on Saturday also announced it would not play the soccer World Cup qualifiers against Russia.

“The illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine currently makes all football exchanges with Russia impossible,” Swedish Football Association chairman Karl-Erik Nilsson said.

“We therefore urge FIFA to decide that the playoff matches in March in which Russia participates will be cancelled. But regardless of what FIFA chooses to do, we will not play against Russia in March.”

The conflict has entered a third day since Russian leader Vladimir Putin unleashed a full-scale invasion that has killed dozens of people, forced more than 100,000 to flee Ukraine in just 48 hours and sparked fears of a wider conflict in Europe.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino refused to take a decision regarding the playoffs when he held a press conference hours after the invasion began on Thursday.

He said “FIFA condemns the use of force” adding he was “shocked” by what he had seen but would not be rushed into a decision over moving the matches.

“The first match is in a month, we hope of course that this situation will be resolved well before then,” he said.

European football’s governing body UEFA punished Russia on Friday by stripping Saint Petersburg of hosting European club football’s showpiece event the Champions League final on May 28 and awarded it to Paris.

UEFA made no reference to its relationship with Gazprom, the Russian state energy giant that is one of their key sponsors, but is reportedly in talks to cut ties.

It also announced that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams competing in international competitions must play home matches at neutral venues “until further notice”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies