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Poland refuses to play 2022 World Cup play-off against Russia

WARSAW (AFP) – Poland will not play their 2022 World Cup play-off with Russia in Moscow on March 24 due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the president of the Polish football federation said yesterday.

The conflict has entered the third day since Russian leader Vladimir Putin unleashed a full-scale invasion that has killed dozens of people, forced more than 50,000 to flee Ukraine in just 48 hours and sparked fears of a wider conflict in Europe.

“The time for talking is over. It is time to act. Due to the escalation of the Russian Federation’s aggression in Ukraine, the Polish team does not envisage playing the play-off against Russia,” wrote Cezary Kulesza, adding it was the “only correct decision”.

He said he would work with the Swedish and Czech federations – the winners of their match would have to play in Russia on March 29 if the latter beat Poland – to present a unified position to Fifa.

The three federations issued a joint statement on Thursday demanding Fifa move the respective play-offs from Russia – who only four years ago hosted the World Cup finals.

Polish captain Robert Lewandowski – who had tweeted on Friday he would consult his team-mates about the match – welcomed his federation’s move.

“The right decision!” tweeted Bayern Munich’s star striker.

“I cannot 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 cannot pretend that nothing is happening.”

On Friday the 33-year-old expressed his rejection of war. “Everything which is beautiful in sports is against what war brings,” he said.

“For all people who value freedom and peace this is a time of solidarity with the victims of the military aggression in Ukraine.”