Poland and Sweden Refuse to Play Russia in World Cup Playoffs

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s refusal to play its World Cup qualifier against Russia next month in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine gained wider support when Sweden followed with its own plans to protest to FIFA on Saturday.

Polish soccer federation president Cezary Kulesza announced Poland’s decision and said it was in talks with other federations to present a unified position to FIFA, which is responsible for the March 24 game in Moscow.

“No more words, time to act!” Kulesza wrote on Twitter, adding the move was prompted by the “escalation of the aggression.”

Poland captain Robert Lewandowski and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny were among those supporting the decision, with the Bayern Munich striker saying “we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.”
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Sweden, a potential opponent of Russia in next month’s playoffs, later joined Poland in declaring its national team would not play a match against the Russians regardless of where it takes place.

“The illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine currently makes all football fixtures with Russia impossible,” said Karl-Erik Nilsson, the Swedish federation’s chairman. “We therefore urge FIFA to decide that the playoff matches in March in which Russia participates will be canceled.”

For a chance to play in the World Cup, the winner of the Poland-Russia game will host either Sweden or Czech Republic from March 29-31.

“We have a hard time believing,” Nilsson added, “that FIFA will not follow our call. Russia can not join as long as this madness continues.”

Nilsson was also the first vice-president at UEFA, which has disqualified Russia from hosting the Champions League finals in St. Petersburg this May. Friday’s decision by UEFA to relocate the game to Paris was taken.

Lewandowski, Poland’s all-time leading scorer and winner of FIFA’s best-player award for the past two years, supported Kulesza’s announcement.

“I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues,” Lewandowski said on Twitter. “Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.”

FIFA still has not taken a position regarding Russia hosting, or playing against Poland.

Friday, the European soccer body UEFA announced that every Russian and Ukrainian team must move its home matches to other countries in their competitions.

The 1992 decision could be a precedent. Following sanctions imposed at war’s outbreak by the United Nations, FIFA and UEFA both removed Yugoslavia form their competitions.

Poland stated previously that it would not be participating in the Moscow qualifying semifinals.

Russian troops pressed toward Ukraine’s capital Saturday, after a night of explosions and street fighting that sent Kyiv residents seeking shelter underground.

The extent of Russian military advances was unclear. Officials from Ukraine claimed that they were able to repel the attacks, although fighting continued near the capital.


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