Countries in plea to football chiefs over Russia’s ‘alarming’ Ukraine offensive
Russia's "alarming" military offensive in Ukraine means it must not be allowed to host crunch qualifying matches for the Qatar 2022 World Cup in March, football chiefs in Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic have told UEFA and FIFA.
In a joint statement to FIFA's General Secretary, the football associations of the three countries said that safety fears meant they would not now countenance heading to Russia for the potentially crucial clashes in the race to reach the World Cup, which takes place in November and December.
Valeri Karpin's Russia are set to have home advantage in their semi-final against Poland, scheduled for Moscow on March 24.
Five days later, they are due to host the winner of the match between Sweden and the Czech Republic – but their rivals say they will hold a "firm position" not head to Russia because of the military operation in Ukraine.
The countries said the "security situation" in the "conflict between Russia and Ukraine" means the matches should not be held in Russian territory.
"The signatories to this appeal do not consider traveling to Russia and playing football matches there," they added.
"The military escalation that we are observing entails serious consequences and considerably lower safety for our national football teams and official delegates.
"Therefore we expect UEFA and FIFA to react immediately and to present alternative solutions regarding places where these approaching playoff matches could be played."
The traveling squads could include the likes of former Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is revered in Sweden, and Bayern Munich goal machine Robert Lewandowski, the Poland captain.
Any switch would deal a huge blow to Russia's chances of reaching the finals, having remained unbeaten at home during their group qualifying campaign as part of a formidable run on Russian soil.
Karpin's side were only denied automatic progress to the World Cup courtesy of a late winner by 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia in their final group game in Zagreb.
Some reports have claimed that European football administrative body UEFA will move the flagship date on its club calendar, the Champions League final, away from Russia in an announcement on Friday following an emergency meeting.
The game had been set to take place at the Gazprom Arena – which is home to Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg and regularly hosts national team games – on May 28.
UEFA are used to altering match venues at short notice, including changing the settings for the last two Champions League finals because of pandemic-related restrictions.
Ukraine face up to two away games in the play-offs, knowing that victory in Scotland on March 24 would send them to a final in Wales or Austria.