‘No animosity’ as Russia and Ukraine prepare for rare showdown
Russia and Ukraine are preparing to meet in the semifinal of the UEFA European Futsal Championships amid a backdrop of political and military tensions, but members of the Russian team insist that will not be a factor in the match.
The unbeaten Russian team booked their spot in the last four of UEFA Futsal Euro 2022 with victory over Georgia on Tuesday.
They will next face a Ukrainian team which shocked favorites Kazakhstan in their quarterfinal meeting in Amsterdam on Monday.
The Ziggo Dome in the Dutch capital will be the venue when the two nations clash on Friday as they continue their respective bids to be crowned European kings in a sport which is a smaller version of football featuring two teams of five players and is typically played indoors.
Given the backdrop of the ongoing tensions, the semifinal showdown will inevitably come with added attention – even if protagonists among the Russian team are keen to avoid extra baggage.
Russian forward Ivan Chishkala, who was on target twice in the 3-1 quarterfinal win over Georgia, has admitted he doesn’t have friends on the Ukrainian team but nonetheless says relations are more than civil.
“We communicate with the guys [from Ukraine], we don’t have any animosity,” Chishkala told TASS.
“We chat, we see each in the hotel, we greet each other in an absolutely civil way. There are no misunderstandings, I think that’s the most important thing.
“First of all, we have the task of winning the European Championship. It’s absolutely not important who the opponent is, we are dealing with our own goals,” Chishkala added.
“Maybe many people would like to think that now they will focus on this [relationship between the two countries], but I prefer to move away from this…
“I would be happy if there were no political overtones, because everyone says that sport is out of politics, so you shouldn’t focus on it,” said the 26-year-old, who plays for Benfica in Portugal.
Those sentiments were echoed by the head of the Russian Futsal Association, Emil Aliyev.
He noted that the game would be something of a rarity given UEFA’s policy to keep Russia and Ukraine apart during the draw for tournaments – including in club competitions such as the Champions League.
“The political background of this meeting cannot be discarded. We’ve been separated for a long time [in competitions], even at this European Championship we were placed into groups so that we couldn’t meet each other before the semifinal,” Aliyev told Match TV.
“The main intrigue of the upcoming meeting is the fact that we haven’t played each other for a long time. We have a tough game ahead of us, the Ukrainian team is a strong team that imposes itself [on its opponents].
“The Ukrainian team uses Russian [language] in its matches. Secondly, they are our friends. Sport, in particular futsal, is outside of politics.
“These aren’t just words; we’ve been friends with our colleagues from the Futsal Association of Ukraine for a long time, we have close ties.
“It would be better if everyone sorted out the relationship – who is stronger or faster – on sporting grounds. We have a very good relationship with the Ukrainian national team.”
Those feelings were shared at political level by Dmitry Svishchev, chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on Physical Culture and Sports.
He said if there was any “provocation,” it would not come from the players or other members of the respective teams.
“This is an ordinary sports match between two teams,” Svishchev told Russian outlet Championat.
“In other sports our teams meet with Ukrainians from time to time: everything goes quietly and peacefully.
“There’s no need for excessive politicization – it’s harmful. We have missed the football matches between our teams.
“I’m sure that the players don’t think about politics, but about beautiful football,” added Svishchev.
“If provocations are hypothetically possible, then definitely not on the part of the players and heads of delegations.
“They may arise from individual fans who could go to the match to try to create an additional and unnecessary situation around a beautiful event.
“Here the responsibility lies with the organizers from Amsterdam. I really hope that everything is organized to the highest level. May the strongest team win.”
The current tournament is the 12th edition of the UEFA futsal showpiece.
Russia were winners in 1999 and are five-time runners-up – being beaten in their last four appearances in the final.
Ukraine were runners-up in 2001 and 2003 and are yet to win the tournament.
Friday’s other semifinal also sees a clash of regional rivals as Iberian neighbors Portugal and Spain do battle, with the match also being played in Amsterdam.
The third-place playoff and tournament final are set for the Ziggo Dome on Sunday, February 6.