WARSAW — Poland and Sweden said they would not play their soccer World Cup qualifiers against Russia in March, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the governing bodies of both national teams said on Saturday.
The playoff matches are set to be held in March to fill a slot for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and several Poland players including captain Robert Lewandowski backed the decision with statements on social media.
It is the right decision! I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues. Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening. https://t.co/rfnfbXzdjF— Robert Lewandowski (@lewy_official) February 26, 2022
Koniec ze słowami, czas na czyny! W związku z eskalacją agresji Federacji Rosyjskiej na Ukrainę, reprezentacja Polski nie zamierza rozegrać barażowego meczu z rep. Rosji. To jedyna słuszna decyzja. Prowadzimy rozmowy z federacjami i , aby przedstawić FIFA wspólne stanowisko.— Cezary Kulesza (@Czarek_Kulesza) February 26, 2022
"In light of the escalation of the Russian Federation's aggression against Ukraine, the Polish national team is not going to play a match against Russian Republic," Poland's Football Association chief Cezary Kulesza wrote on Twitter.
"This is the only right decision. We're in talks with Swedish and Czech association to present a common position to FIFA."
Russia is scheduled to host Poland in the semifinals of its strand of the World Cup playoffs on March 24 and, if its team advances, is scheduled to host either Sweden or the Czech Republic on March 29 in the Path B final.
The Swedish FA later said that its team would not face the Russians regardless of where the match is played.
"The men's national team will not play against Russia - regardless of where the match is played."
Sweden's national soccer team joins Poland in refusing to play against Russia. https://t.co/Sv1fJwNubT— Rick Westhead (@rwesthead) February 26, 2022
"The illegal and deeply unjust invasion of Ukraine currently makes all football exchanges with Russia impossible," Swedish Football Association chairman Karl-Erik Nilsson said.
"We therefore urge FIFA to decide that the playoff matches in March in which Russia participates will be cancelled. But regardless of what FIFA chooses to do, we will not play against Russia in March."
Earlier, Polish national team players took to social media to express their support for the move.
"It is not an easy decision, but there are more important things in life than football," Kamil Glik, Mateusz Klich, Matty Cash and others wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
"Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian nation and our friend from the national team, Tomasz Kedziora, who is still in Kiev with his family."
Poland and Serie A side Juventus' goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, whose wife was born in Ukraine, didn't mince his words on Instagram.
View this post on Instagram
"I refuse to play against players who choose to represent the values and principles of Russia," he said.
"I refuse to take part in a sporting event that legitimates the actions of the Russian government.
Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic on Thursday released a joint statement saying Russia should not be allowed to host the qualifiers next month.
Poland was the first to refuse to play Russia at all, risking itself being forced to miss the World Cup, which may be the last for Lewandowski and many other Polish players.
(Reporting by Alicja Ptak and Anita Kobylinska; Additional reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Writing by Michael Kahn, Editing by Catherine Evans and Hugh Lawson)