Football: Pele calls on Putin to stop Russia's 'wicked' invasion of Ukraine

Pele had one of the most storied careers in sport, scoring more than 1,000 goals before retiring in 1977. PHOTO: AFP

SAO PAOLO (REUTERS, AFP) - Brazilian football legend Pele made a public plea on Wednesday (June 1) to Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his "wicked" and "unjustifiable" invasion of Ukraine, minutes before Ukraine's national team played in a World Cup qualifying game.

"I want to use today's game as an opportunity to make a request: Stop this invasion. No argument exists that can justify violence," Pele said in a statement published on Instagram.

"This conflict is wicked, unjustifiable and brings nothing but pain, fear, terror and anguish...

"Wars only exist to separate nations, and there's no ideology that justifies projectile missiles burying the dreams of children, ruining families and killing the innocent."

Pele and Mr Putin last met in Moscow in 2017 during the Confederations Cup, a championship held before the World Cup.

The Russian leader has named the three-time World Cup champion as one of his favourite players.

"When we met in the past and exchanged smiles accompanied by a long handshake, I never thought one day we would be as divided as we are today," wrote Pele, who served as Brazil's first minister of sports in the 1990s.

Considered by many the greatest footballer of all time, Pele had one of the most storied careers in sport, scoring more than 1,000 goals before retiring in 1977.

He has been in poor health recently, undergoing surgery last September for a colon tumour, followed by ongoing chemotherapy.

His message comes as the Ukraine conflict nears its 100th day, with fierce fighting ongoing in the nation's east, after the Russian army failed in its bid to capture Kyiv.

Ukraine beat Scotland 3-1 on Wednesday to move one game away from qualifying for the World Cup. The match in Glasgow was the first for them Ukrainian national team since the invasion began.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked the team for "two hours of happiness, something we have become unaccustomed to".

The winners will face Wales on Sunday to decide who will be the final member of Group B - alongside England, the United States and Iran.

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