Real Madrid centre back won the last of his 180 caps in March this year but has endured an injury-plagued season.
Ukraine’s football federation has unveiled the national team’s Euro 2020 kits that features Russian-annexed Crimea and popular nationalist slogans, prompting Moscow’s ire.
Postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Euro 2020 will be played from June 11 to July 11 across 11 cities including Saint Petersburg.
In a statement published on Facebook on Sunday, Andriy Pavelko, president of the Football Federation of Ukraine, said Ukrainian players will wear “special uniforms” and posted photos of the jerseys in the blue-and-yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag.
The football kits feature the contours of Ukraine that include Russia-annexed Crimea and the separatist-controlled regions of Donetsk and Lugansk as well as the words “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!”
“We believe that Ukraine’s silhouette will give strength to the players because they will fight for all of Ukraine,” Pavelko said.
The “Glory to Ukraine” slogan is a patriotic chant that became a rallying cry for protesters who removed a Kremlin-backed leader, Viktor Yanukovych, during a popular uprising in 2014.
The revolt was condemned as illegal by Moscow and sparked a crisis in ties between the two countries.
Russia annexed Crimea and supported Russian-speaking fighters in Ukraine’s east. The conflict has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.
The “Glory to Ukraine” call and “Glory to the Heroes” response are associated with Ukraine’s decades-old fight for independence.
The slogans have drawn criticism from Moscow for their association with World War II-era nationalist groups who both fought against and cooperated with the Nazis.
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova derided the football kits, saying Ukraine’s football team “attached Ukraine’s territory to Russia’s Crimea”.
The design, she said, brings to mind the art technique of “trompe l’oeil” that tricks the eye and creates the “illusion of the impossible”.
Zakharova also said that Euro 2020 organisers and fans “should know” that the Ukrainian rallying cry “imitates” the infamous Nazi slogan.
“During the war this Nazi battle cry was used by regular and irregular nationalist Ukrainian armed units,” Zakharova said on messaging app Telegram.
Several Russian MPs accused Ukraine of politicising football.
“This is totally inappropriate,” legislator Dmitry Svishchyov told Kremlin-backed RT, formerly known as Russia Today, urging UEFA, Europe’s football governing body, to act.
“Let our players then take to the pitch in T-shirts featuring the contours of the Russian empire that include Poland, Ukraine and Finland.”
Anatoly Vorobyov, former general secretary of the Russian Football Union, said UEFA might interfere if Russia formally protests.
Speaking to RT, he quipped the Ukrainians had designed the kits under the influence of “magic mushrooms”.
In 2018, former Croatia international Ognjen Vukojevic was kicked out of the World Cup semi-finalists’ delegation after posting a pro-Ukraine clip that caused a political dispute.
Following the quarter-final win over host nation Russia, Vukojevic posted an Instagram video featuring him and Croatia defender Domagoj Vida, who shouted “Glory to Ukraine!”