World Cup play-offs thrown into chaos as Russia’s three opponents vow not to travel

Russia are due to take on Poland at the end of March in World Cup qualifying, before the winner faces the team which progresses from the other semi-final involving Sweden and Czech Republic

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FIFA’s plans for World Cup qualifying are in crisis with the football associations of Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic confirming they will not travel to Russia amid their invasion of Ukraine.

Russian troops launched attacks on the neighbouring country in the early hours of Thursday morning, with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky declaring martial law.

Mr Zelensky confirmed that Russia was carrying out military strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure, telling his citizens “Don’t panic. We are strong. We are ready for everything. We will defeat everyone. Because we are Ukraine.”

UEFA have already called an extraordinary meeting of their Executive Committee, where it is expected that St. Petersburg will be replaced as host city of this year’s Champions League final.

A statement released on Thursday read: “UEFA shares the international community’s significant concern for the security situation developing in Europe and strongly condemns the ongoing Russian military invasion in Ukraine.

Poland are due to take on Russia at the Lev Yashin Stadium in Moscow at the end of March

“As the governing body of European football, UEFA is working tirelessly to develop and promote football according to common European values such as peace and respect for human rights, in the spirit of the Olympic Charter.

“We remain resolute in our solidarity with the football community in Ukraine and stand ready to extend our hand to the Ukrainian people.

“We are dealing with this situation with the utmost seriousness and urgency. Decisions will be taken by the UEFA Executive Committee and announced tomorrow.”

And the governing bodies of European and world football are now under further pressure with nations announcing they will not visit Russia to play scheduled play-off matches.

Sweden, Czech Republic and Poland have been drawn in Path B of the European play-offs, with the latter scheduled to take on Russia on March 24 in Moscow.

Should Russia win that encounter, they would take on the winner of Sweden vs Czech Republic in a one-off final.

But the three federations have joined together to demand clarity on the situation, with ‘alternative solutions’ offered immediately.

The three federations released the statement on Thursday afternoon

“Based on the current alarming development in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, including the security situation the Football Associations of Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic express their firm position that the playoff matches to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, scheduled for 24 and 29 March 2002, should not be played in the territory of the Russian Federation,” a statement reads.

“The signatories to this appeal do not consider travelling to Russia and playing football matches there.

“The military escalation that we are observing entails serious consequences and considerably lower safety for our national football teams and official delegations.

“Therefore, we expect FIFA and UEFA to react immediately and to present alternative solutions regarding places where these approaching playoff matches could be played.”

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