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International

Poland Refuses to Play Russia in WC Qualifier, Cites Ukraine

February 26, 2022

WARSAW, Poland — Poland is refusing to play its World Cup qualifier against Russia next month in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Polish soccer federation president said Saturday.

Cezary Kulesza made the announcement on Twitter and indicated Poland 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, saying the move was prompted by the “escalation of the aggression.”

Poland striker Robert Lewandowski, the nation’s all-time leading scorer and winner of FIFA’s best-player award for the past two years, immediately responded to say it’s the “right decision!”

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

FIFA has yet to take a clear position on Russia hosting or even playing against Poland.

European soccer body UEFA said Friday that in its competitions all Russian and Ukrainian teams must now move their home games to play in other countries.

A potential precedent for action is from 1992. Both FIFA and UEFA removed Yugoslavia from their competitions following sanctions imposed by the United Nations at the outbreak of war there.

Previously, Poland had only said it did not want to play the qualifying playoff semifinal in Moscow.

The winner is due to host Sweden or the Czech Republic on March 29 for a place at the World Cup being played in Qatar from Nov. 21-Dec. 18.

The head of Sweden’s federation, Karl-Erik Nilsson, is also first vice president at UEFA which has stripped Russia of hosting the Champions League final in St. Petersburg in May. UEFA decided Friday to move that game to Paris.

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

It was not immediately clear how far Russian troops had advanced. Ukrainian officials reported some success in fending off assaults, but fighting persisted near the capital.

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