Ukraine's football league WILL restart despite threat of Russian troops…

0
56


Not since the Second World War has European football faced such upheaval.

For two years, the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc with restrictions on travel and closed borders across Europe.

UEFA, national associations, clubs and international teams have strained every sinew to keep the show on the road, and provide an important diversion from illness and lockdowns.

But now, the shadow of conflict has fallen over the continent again after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into two rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine.

The annexing of the Donbas region has sent shock waves across European football.

The location of the Champions League final, which is scheduled to be held in Russia on May 28, is now in question and Scotland’s World Cup play-off fixture against Ukraine on March 24 at Hampden Park is under the spotlight.

Liverpool U19s are in the same half of the draw as Dynamo Kiev U19s in the UEFA Youth League and may yet be asked to play in the troubled region in the latter stages of the competition.

And the alarming prospect of fighting in eastern Europe has cast doubt on the completion of the Ukrainian Premier League, which is due to restart after a two-month winter break, on Friday.

Sportsmail considers the fall out of the crisis in Ukraine for European football.

UEFA will consider stripping Russia of hosting this season's Champions League final

UEFA will consider stripping Russia of hosting this season’s Champions League final

What is going on in Ukraine?

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, it is just ‘peacekeeping’.

After months of tension, which have seen 150,000 Russian forces build up around the borders of Ukraine, Putin has finally made a decisive move.

On Monday, the Premier formally recognised two eastern Ukrainian regions – around Donetsk and Luhansk – as independent states.

This was quickly followed by a declaration from Putin that Russian troops would be ‘peacekeeping’ in the breakaway regions, which it has backed since 2014.

A military truck drives along a street after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of Russian troops

A military truck drives along a street after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of Russian troops

A tank, believed to be Russian, is spotted on a street near the city of Donetsk in separatist-held regions of eastern Ukraine

A tank, believed to be Russian, is spotted on a street near the city of Donetsk in separatist-held regions of eastern Ukraine

It sounds bad…

It is. Russia has been backing a bloody armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine, where the two major cities are Donetsk and Luhansk, for the past eight years.

Fourteen thousand people – including many civilians – have died in fighting there since 2014.

Now, there are threats and counter threats passing east and west and fears of a full-blown conflict.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin (left) is considering moving the final from Russia

Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his forces into the Ukraine's east on Monday night

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin (left) is now considering moving the final from Russia after Vladimir Putin ordered his forces into the Ukraine’s east on Monday night

TANKS ROLLING INTO UKRAINE

Russian tanks, armoured vehicles and trucks have been seen rolling into eastern regions of Ukraine, prompting the UK Government to warn an invasion has begun.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to carry out ‘peacekeeping’ duties in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions after he recognised them as independent on Monday, an act that prompted tensions to escalate.

On Tuesday morning, UK health secretary, Sajid Javid, warned that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has begun.

Western states, including the UK, USA and United Nations, are now lining up to slap sanctions on key Russian figures and businesses but there is no sign that Putin is willing to back down.

A column of armoured vehicles was spotted in Donetsk, the main city of one of the two so-called ‘republics’, in the early hours of this morning. No insignia were visible on the vehicles, but there is little doubt they are Russian forces deployed on Putin’s orders.

At the same time, Ukraine said heavy shelling broke out along nearly all 250 miles of its frontline with the breakaway provinces, leaving two of its soldiers dead and 12 injured in a major escalation in violence.

 

Surely football is not the major concern?

Well, that’s true but the Ukrainians are desperate to keep their 16 Premier League teams playing, to help maintain some normality in the troubled country.

The top flight takes a winter break each season and the clubs have not played since December 12. Mostly, they have been keeping warm and training in Turkey, which is on the other side of the Black Sea.

They are due back in action on Friday, February 25, when the second bottom club, Mynai, host fourth placed, Zorya Luhansk.

This round of fixtures look set to go ahead, but no one can be sure what will happen next of if the season will be completed.

‘The main message to the Ukrainian people now is to carry on,’ Ukrainian football journalist Andrew Todos told Sportsmail.

‘People are worried, but football helps to give some respite.’

After conflict broke out ion the eastern region of the country in 2014, the Ukrainian Premier League dwindled to just 12 sides and it has only returned to 16 teams this season. 

However, because of the escalating conflict there has been doubt over whether the season will actually resume and if it does, will it be completed?

Scotland have earned a place in a 2022 World Cup play-off and will face Ukraine in March

Scotland have earned a place in a 2022 World Cup play-off and will face Ukraine in March

Does this impact on British clubs?

Yes, potentially. The Champions League final is due to be played in St Petersburg in Russia on May 28.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted Russia must be stopped from hosting the final. UEFA is now in talks over whether the game should be moved in light of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, according to The Times, after initially insisting there were no plans to change.

Ex-sports minister Tracey Crouch was one of those who urged UEFA to ‘reconsider’. 

‘UEFA should urgently reconsider the decision to hold the Champions League final in Russia following Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine,’ Crouch told PoliticsHome on Tuesday.

How couldn’t they? Could UEFA really award the showpiece final to a county that has invaded one of its fellow members?

And Britain is one of the countries that has been most outspoken in the international protests at Russia’s actions. Sanctions have been drawn up to put the squeeze on the Russian hierarchy.

What’s more, there is a good chance that at least one English club will contest the final. Last year, Chelsea and Manchester City played each other. They are still going strong in the competition, along with Liverpool. Manchester United are in it, too.

The Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg hosted international matches at Euro 2020

The Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg hosted international matches at Euro 2020

An all-English final in Russia, while the two countries rattle sabres at each other across the continent is very hard to envisage.

If Russia loses the final, then UEFA will be looking for a new venue. 

Déjà vu? It would be the third year that UEFA officials have been forced to find a last-minute alternative for the showpiece.

In 2019-20, plans to play the final at the Ataturk Stadium in Turkey were abandoned due to the Covid pandemic and the final rounds were played in Portugal, with Bayern Munich beating Paris Saint-Germain in Portugal at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon.

Last year, Chelsea lifted the trophy after beating Manchester City 1-0 at the Estádio do Dragão, in Porto, after Turkey was placed on the UK’s Red List, restricting travel for fans returning to the UK. The final moved again from the Ataturk.

Last season's Champions League final was played between Manchester City and Chelsea

Last season’s Champions League final was played between Manchester City and Chelsea

Could the final move to Wembley?

Whenever there is a big game up for grabs, Wembley is mentioned. And so, it is inevitable that England’s national stadium is in the conversation.

According to the Daily Star, the prospect becomes more likely should two English teams reach the final.

However, this is a well-worn argument and while attractive and common sense to the English, it winds up the Europeans, who see it as arrogant and entitled.

There is a long way to go on that one.

Wembley has been mentioned as a potential venue for the 2022 Champions League final

Wembley has been mentioned as a potential venue for the 2022 Champions League final

Are there any Ukrainian clubs left in European competition and will British clubs have to travel there?

Only one team remain in a continental cup competition… Dynamo Kiev U19s are in the last 16 of the UEFA Youth League.

Kiev play Sporting Lisbon U19s at home in the Ukraine capital on Wednesday March 2. Tickets went on sale yesterday.

Liverpool U19s are in the same half of the draw at Kiev and the Reds may yet find themselves playing Kiev. 

While Kiev’s participation will continue, UEFA are expected to look at where the games are played. During the Covid pandemic, UEFA regularly moved matches to neutral venues.

Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev both crashed out of the Champion’s League in the group stages, finishing with no wins from their six games in groups D and E, respectively.  

Shakhtar Donetsk were dumped out of the Champions League, losing to Inter Milan on the way

Shakhtar Donetsk were dumped out of the Champions League, losing to Inter Milan on the way

Why will the crisis affect Scotland’s FIFA World Cup play-off game against Ukraine?

If the Ukrainian Premier League is suspended then Scotland could find themselves at an advantage. Sixteen of Ukraine’s squad play in the domestic league.

The Scots host Ukraine at Hampden Park on March 24. If the league is suspended, the majority of the Ukraine players will have seen no competitive action, or very little, for more than three months.

On the flipside, regardless of their preparation, it is hard to imagine how the Ukraine national team could be more motivated to progress in the competition and reach the finals in Qatar. 

Scotland earned a qualification play-off place for the 2022 World Cup with a win over Denmark

Scotland earned a qualification play-off place for the 2022 World Cup with a win over Denmark

What is the Ukrainian Premier League saying?

The Premier League, the Professional Football League of Ukraine (the second and third tier) and the Ukrainian Association of Football met last week to discuss the crisis.

And they insist they are not giving up, for now anyway.

‘Stability is very important right now and we want to tell the world that life goes on and the way we can help with that is the resumption of our league,’ said UAF president Andriy Pavelko.

‘We have to hope the difficult days will go away and there will be peace and prosperity for our country. Obviously, if the situation changes, we will have to assess the position.’

And Pavelko insists his country will be ready for the Scots.

‘We look forward to playing against in the play-offs for the 2022 World Cup.,’ he said. ‘This will be one of the most important events of this year for our fans.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Premier League chief Yevhen Dykyy revealed: ‘We continue to closely monitor the situation, but at the moment the season resumes with a match between Mynai and Zorya Luhansk on Friday.’

Passionate support... fans of Dynamo Kiev at a match against and  Shakhtar Donetsk (file)

Passionate support… fans of Dynamo Kiev at a match against and  Shakhtar Donetsk (file)

Do any teams in the Ukrainian Premier League play in the areas in or around Donetsk and Luhansk?

Yes, one team.  Mariupol. It is just 20 miles from the border of the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk and it will be the most problematic location if tensions rise further.

Mariupol, who sit bottom of the league, play their next home game against Inhulets on March 11.

Shakhtar Donetsk and Zorya Luhansk both moved to new homes after the conflict flared in 2014.

Donetsk have played in the capital, Kiev, since 2020 and Luhansk play in Zaporizhzhia, in south Ukraine.

No professional teams are playing in the eastern region. 



LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here