When Path B of World Cup qualifying in Europe was drawn up, it had some intriguing matchups. A strong Sweden side were drawn up against Czech Republic, who reached the quarterfinals of the European Championship in 2020. The other matchup saw Robert Lewandowski’s Poland drawn up against a Russian side that were a penalty kick shootout away from the semifinals of the previous World Cup. The winner of each match would play each other in a one-match playoff with a World Cup spot on the line.
However, a lot has changed since these matches were decided. Russia has invaded neighboring country Ukraine, causing global outrage over the actions of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The soccer world was no different, with many teams and players reacting. Several held up banners and signs protesting the war, whilst German side Schalke 04 removed the Gazprom sponsor from their jerseys, where they have been since 2006. They weren’t the only club to end a sponsorship, as Manchester United also announced they had terminated their sponsorship with Russian airline Aeroflot. UEFA even moved the Champions League final from St. Petersburg to Paris.
Poland and Sweden, however, have put even more pressure on FIFA. With Russia expecting to host the match against Poland, the Poles have shared their support with neighbors Ukraine by refusing to play against Russia. Multiple players confirmed this, with many expressing support for Ukraine and Polish defender Tomasz Kedziora, who plays for Dynamo Kyiv and is currently still in the Ukrainian capital.
Sweden released a similar statement not long after, announcing they would not face Russia either, something they would potentially do in the Path B final. Czech Republic have yet to announce that they won’t play, however they have expressed their concern and the national team’s association stated on Twitter that they have requested (alongside Russia and Sweden) that Russia not be given the chance to host any games.
It is rather unfortunate for Russia’s national team that they will possibly be kicked from the tournament, as much of Russia’s population doesn’t support the occupation of Ukraine. Russia’s striker Fedor Smolov, who has won Russian player of the year three times, has even spoken out against the invasion of Ukraine on social media. However, FIFA and UEFA can’t simply let Russia off the hook and play in the World Cup whilst they continue to attack innocent civilians and cause harm.
Image courtesy of Football.ua, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.
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