Football: Uefa to move Champions League final from Russia – source

Uefa has already moved the last two Champions League finals due to the pandemic. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (REUTERS, AFP) - Uefa will move this year’s Champions League final from St Petersburg in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a source with knowledge of the situation said on Thursday (Feb 24). 

The European football governing body's president Aleksander Ceferin has called an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee on Friday morning and it is expected to agree on moving the final.

The showcase match in European club football was set to be held at Zenit St Petersburg’s stadium on May 28 – an event that would have normally drawn thousands of fans from across the continent.

The stadium is known as the Gazprom Arena after a sponsorship deal with Russia’s state energy company, which also sponsors Uefa’s Champions League and Uefa’s Euro 2024 national team competition. The venue has already hosted several matches at last year's European Championship and at the 2018 World Cup held in Russia.

"Following the evolution of the situation between Russia and Ukraine in the last 24 hours, the Uefa president has decided to call an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee for Friday, Feb 25 at 10:00 CET (0900 GMT), in order to evaluate the situation and take all necessary decisions," Uefa said in a statement.

“We are dealing with this situation with the utmost seriousness and urgency. Decisions will be taken by the Uefa Executive Committee and announced tomorrow,” the organisation added in a further statement.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that Russia had "no chance" of holding European football's showpiece game if it invaded Ukraine.

"A Russia that has pariah status - no chance of holding a football tournament in a Russia that invades sovereign countries," Mr Johnson said.

There are currently four English Premier League clubs still involved in the last 16 of this season's Champions League, including Chelsea and Manchester City, who contested last season's final in Porto, Portugal.

Uefa has already moved the last two Champions League finals due to the pandemic from Istanbul to Lisbon in 2020, and then again from the Turkish city to Porto last year.

The Champions League final was last staged in Russia in 2008, when Manchester United defeated Chelsea on penalties in Moscow.

Zenit Saint Petersburg, the reigning Russian champions and current league leaders, are still involved in Uefa competition this season and have been cleared by the governing body to play Real Betis in Spain in the Europa League on Thursday.

Uefa’s later statement condemned the Russian invasion.

“Uefa shares the international community’s significant concern for the security situation developing in Europe and strongly condemns the ongoing Russian military invasion in Ukraine,” the organisation said.

“We remain resolute in our solidarity with the football community in Ukraine and stand ready to extend our hand to the Ukrainian people.”

The Ukrainian league, which was due to resume this weekend after its long winter break, has been suspended.

"We'll withstand it," posted Shakhtar Donetsk, the 13-time Ukrainian champions who have been exiled from their already war-torn home city for eight years, on Twitter with a picture of the Ukrainian flag.

A 2022 World Cup play-off match in Russia is “almost unthinkable” at the moment, the chairman of the Swedish Football Association said. Sweden are due to face the Czech Republic in a European play-off match on March 24, with the victors meeting the winners of the clash between Poland and Russia on March 29 for a place at the Nov 21-Dec 18 World Cup in Qatar.

“It is almost unthinkable that we in a few weeks would play a football match in Russia,” Karl-Erik Nilsson told Reuters.

“There is absolutely no desire to play a football match in Russia.”

But the 64-year-old stopped short of demanding that the Russians be kicked out of the World Cup qualification picture entirely.

The football associations of Poland and the Czech Republic also said on Thursday that Russia should not be allowed to host March's World Cup qualifiers.

It remains unclear if the fighting will also affect Ukraine’s play-off game away to Scotland on March 24, with the winners facing either Wales or Austria five days later for another Qatar 2022 berth.

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