Roberto Mancini says Italy will not look beyond Thursday's play-off semi-final with North Macedonia as they aim to avoid more World Cup qualifying heartbreak.

Italy, then under the management of Gian Piero Ventura, failed to qualify for the last World Cup for the first time since 1958 after losing to Sweden in the play-offs.

The Azzurri bounced back from that disappointment by winning the European Championships last year for only the second time.

Just eight months on from that triumph, Mancini's men are once again relying on the play-offs to help them reach Qatar 2022 after finishing behind Switzerland in their group.

Should Italy overcome North Macedonia in Palermo, they then face a showdown with either Portugal or Turkey – who meet in Porto on Thursday – in next week's final.

Italy are strong favourites to beat North Macedonia, who are 61 places below their opponents in the FIFA rankings, but Mancini does not consider his side favourites.

"We all start the same; each game is 0-0 and anything can happen in those 90 minutes," he said at Wednesday's pre-match news conference.

"It's an obvious thing to say, but you have to play each game. I don't think there are favourites in these matches.

"North Macedonia defend well and have good technique. Don't forget they won away to Germany in the qualifiers. We need patience, but it starts from 0-0."

A large core of Italy's current contingent were also part of the squad that missed out on a place at Russia 2018, but Mancini is unsure if that works in his side's favour.

"I don't know if it can act as an advantage," he said. "This is part of the life of a sportsman. There are exciting moments in your career and others of disappointment.

"We just have to be focused on what we have to do. Italy know how to play football and we have to just think about ourselves, not other things."

Fernando Santos is confident Portugal can handle the pressure of competing in the World Cup qualifying play-offs.

The Selecao face Turkey in the 'Path C' semi-finals in Porto on Thursday, with the winner of that tie set to take on Italy or North Macedonia next Tuesday.

Portugal have been made to do things the hard way after losing 2-1 to Serbia in November, meaning they missed out on automatic qualification at their opponents' expense.

However, Santos insists the winner-takes-all nature of this week's play-offs can help get the best out of his players, having prevailed in two previous finals during his stewardship.

"What has happened has always been a positive sign," he said at Wednesday's pre-match news conference. "In the two previous finals we've played, we won both.

"In these decisive games we have given a positive response, except in the last game [against Serbia]. The players are experienced and will not be put off.

"We fought hard in those previous finals to make 11 million people happy. Tomorrow, in this next 'final', we want to do so again."

Portugal won Euro 2016 and the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League, beating France and the Netherlands in those respective finals.

The European heavyweights have a big task on their hands if they are to reach Qatar 2022, though, with Turkey and then potentially Italy awaiting over the next six days.

A failure to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since 1998 could cost Santos his job, but the 67-year-old is not thinking about his future ahead of crucial games.

"That's not the question," said Santos, who has been in charge of the national team since 2014.

"I understand why I'm asked, but I'm totally focused on what we have to play for tomorrow and we know what we have to do. 

"The team is highly focused and motivated. We know that we are here because of our responsibility. We have to win to be in the World Cup.

"All our focus is on this game we have tomorrow against Turkey."

Will it be Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane? Italy or Portugal – or indeed neither? Can Canada end their long wait, and are the United States and Australia at risk of missing out?

Those questions and plenty more are set to be answered over the next week or so as World Cup qualifying concludes for many nations.

Just 15 of the 32 participants have so far been confirmed for Qatar 2022, leaving 48 teams battling for the 17 remaining spots.

Fourteen more countries will be assured of a finals berth come the end of next week in what is very much crunch time for those still in contention.

Stats Perform looks at the key talking points.

Egypt seeking revenge in AFCON final repeat

Less than two months on from meeting in the Africa Cup of Nations final, Egypt and Senegal face off over two legs for a place in Qatar.

Senegal prevailed in a penalty shoot-out to claim their first AFCON crown and, buoyed by that triumph, will consider themselves as favourites here.

While both teams boast an array of top-class talent, this fixture is being billed as a showdown between Liverpool team-mates Salah and Mane.

The two biggest stars in African football, only one of the pair will be part of the World Cup later this year – and neither will fancy watching it all unfold from home.

This is not the only grudge match taking place in the CAF section over the next week and a half, as fierce rivals Ghana and Nigeria will also face off in a two-legged play-off.

Cameroon are up against Algeria, Mali take on Tunisia and DR Congo meet Morocco in the other three ties, each of which will be concluded on March 29.

European heavyweights on collision course

Since the play-off draw in the UEFA section took place in November, all talk has centered around a potential meeting between Italy and Portugal for a place in the finals.

The winners of the past two European Championships, either the Azzurri or the Selecao will miss out on the biggest tournament of them all.

It should never have been this way, of course, as both teams were strong favourites to finish top of their groups and qualify automatically.

Italy finished second to Switzerland and Portugal were runners-up to Serbia, meaning the sides must now come through two qualifying ties.

First up for the reigning European champions is a meeting with North Macedonia in Palermo, while Portugal face Turkey in Porto, with the winners of both ties advancing.

Should, as expected, Italy and Portugal come through those semi-finals, the latter will have the advantage of staging the final on home soil five days later.

For Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, it presents what will surely be his last chance to play at a record-equalling fifth World Cup.

 

Pathways impacted by political events

Path C of UEFA qualifying is undoubtedly the most eye-catching, but there are also some tasty fixtures in the other two sections – not least a possible Home Nations derby.

Scotland and Wales were kept apart in the Path B semi-finals but could meet in the final should they overcome Ukraine and Austria respectively.

However, due to ongoing events in Ukraine, their game against Scotland has been pushed back – likely until June – as has the final involving either Wales or Austria.

In Path C, Russia had been due to face Poland, but the invasion of Ukraine forced FIFA and UEFA's hand and they have been banned from competing.

Poland have therefore been handed a bye to the qualifying play-off final, where either Sweden or the Czech Republic await. That match will be contested next week as planned.

Canada on verge of ending long wait, USA with work to do

The United States qualified for every World Cup between 1990 and 2014, but they missed out on a place at Russia 2018 after an embarrassing loss to Trinidad and Tobago.

Gregg Berhalter's side are by no means assured of one of the three automatic qualification spots in the CONCACAF section this time around, either.

USA sit second with three games to go, but they still have to travel to third-placed Mexico, as well as facing Panama and Costa Rica, who occupy fourth and fifth respectively.

Level on points with Mexico and four ahead of Costa Rica, it could be a tense finale to qualifying for the Stars and Stripes.

That should not be the case for Canada, who are eight points clear of fourth and are all but assured of ending their 36-year wait to make a second World Cup finals appearance.

Brazil and Argentina through, but who will join them?

The drawn-out South American qualifiers are nearing their conclusion and only four of the 10 sides know their fate at this juncture.

It has been plain sailing for Brazil and Argentina, who are assured of an automatic qualifying spot with three games to go, including a rescheduled meeting between the pair.

Behind those perennial World Cup representatives are Ecuador, who have been the surprise package in qualifying and can finish no lower than fifth.

Ecuador will not be content with anything other than a top-four finish, though, and they can make certain of that with victory over Paraguay.

Assuming Ecuador get over the line, that will leave Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia battling it out for progression, which sets up some intriguing fixtures.

Uruguay occupy fourth place, meaning their qualifying aspirations are in their own hands, but they have Peru and Chile – the two sides behind them – still to face.

Socceroos sweating on finals spot

Only four teams advance automatically from the CONMEBOL section, with the team in fifth entering a play-off against the winner of the AFC fourth round in a one-off tie in June.

That may well turn out to be Australia as the Socceroos are five and four points behind top two Saudi Arabia and Japan in Group B with two games to go.

However, those remaining two fixtures are against those nations occupying automatic qualification places, so Australia may yet sneak through.

Iran and South Korea have already made certain of progression in Group A, meanwhile, leaving the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Iraq to compete for third place.

The two third-placed finishers – which, as it stands, are Australia and the UAE – will meet in a one-legged match ahead of that aforementioned play-off with a CONMEBOL side.

Italy were jolted ahead of the World Cup play-off against North Macedonia when two members of the Azzurri staff tested positive for COVID-19.

The European champions are bidding to qualify for the Qatar 2022 tournament, knowing a win over Thursday's opponents would see them go into a straight fight with Portugal or Turkey for a place in the finals next Tuesday.

Those have tested positive have gone into isolation.

Italy boss Roberto Mancini will hope there are no further cases detected at the Coverciano training base, particularly among his playing squad.

The identities of those who have tested positive have not yet been disclosed by the FIGC, Italy's football federation, which said targeted checks would continue.

A statement from the FIGC said: "During the preventive anti-COVID checks at the entrance to the national team meeting, two cases of COVID positivity were found among the members of the national team staff. The people were promptly isolated and re-entry was organised.

"Other positive cases relating to the organisational support staff to the national team emerged upon the arrival of the staff in Coverciano and, also in this case, the parties concerned were isolated and not admitted to the technical centre."

Manuel Neuer does not know whether he can hang on as Germany's number one goalkeeper until Euro 2024 – but he is not ruling it out.

The Bayern Munich captain will have turned 38 by the time Germany host the European Championship in two years' time.

Laying his gloves on that trophy would mean Neuer landing one of the few honours that has eluded him in a remarkable career.

Speaking in a Germany news conference on Tuesday, Neuer was cagey about his future prospects and suggested only his form would dictate prospects of playing on for Die Mannschaft in future years.

"I don't have the target for 2024 and beyond to play in goal for the German national team," he said. "I've always said that for as long as I can help, and as long as I feel good, remain needed and have fun, I want to be involved."

Germany strode through to the World Cup with nine wins from 10 qualifiers, and Neuer is set to be their leader going into that tournament in November.

He skippers both club and national team, and will reach 110 caps for his country if he features in the friendlies against Israel and Netherlands over the coming week.

After recovering from a recent knee injury, Neuer has returned to the Bayern side who are chasing a Bundesliga and Champions League double this season.

Going away with Germany is an escape from such pressures, and a reminder of the satisfaction of playing for his country.

"I'm really happy to be here with the national team," Neuer said. "It's still a great honour for me, even if I've been here many years and played many games.

"I'm happy to be part of the squad. For as long as that remains the case, I want to keep playing. For that to happen, of course my performance has to match up."

Germany were World Cup winners in 2014 and that is the goal again this time around, with Neuer believing Hansi Flick's team can challenge.

"We will be measured by trophies," he said of this year's objectives. "That's why there's only one goal for me – to win the World Cup."

Neuer joined Bayern from Schalke in 2011 and holds the record for the most clean sheets in the Bundesliga (210), having surpassed Oliver Kahn (196) in 2021.

Neuer's contract is due to expire at the end of next season, when he will be 37, leading to speculation over his future with Julian Nagelsmann's team. He said on Tuesday there was "no news" on a fresh deal with Bayern.

Marco Verratti has come to the defence of his Paris Saint-Germain and Italy team-mate Gianluigi Donnarumma.

The goalkeeper came in for criticism following PSG's recent Champions League elimination at the hands of Real Madrid, in particular for his error that led to Karim Benzema scoring the Spanish side's first goal at the Santiago Bernabeu in an eventual 3-2 aggregate loss for the Parisians.

Donnarumma has conceded six goals in his last two club appearances, but ahead of Italy's World Cup qualifying play-off against North Macedonia, Verratti wants Azzurri fans to remember his performances during the run to winning Euro 2020.

"We need to be confident. Thursday will be an important match against a team that deserves to be here," Verratti told a news conference.

"As we did during the Euros, we have to go far with enthusiasm and desire.

"Each of us has different stories with our clubs, then here, we have to give everything. With the national team we have always managed to move forward."

It was put to the 29-year-old midfielder that players from PSG and Juventus who were knocked out of the Champions League could bring their dented confidence with them, and he was specifically asked about Donnarumma's mood.

"When you walk into Coverciano [Italy's training complex], you forget everything that happened before, the defeats with our clubs, and you remember what we did last year," Verratti retorted. "We are back to talking about the victory of the European Championship, it's different.

"He [Donnarumma] is sorry for his error against Real Madrid, but Gigio is a special guy. He was already back working the next day with the same enthusiasm.

"Let us not forget what he did for Italy during the Euros. He is one of the best goalkeepers in the world."

Donnarumma played seven games at the rescheduled tournament last year, making 10 stops at a save percentage of 71.43, conceding four goals and making key penalty saves from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka in the final shoot-out against England to clinch the trophy at Wembley Stadium.

Italy are looking to make amends having failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and Verratti insists they will "give everything" to get to Qatar.

"We are accustomed to playing under this kind of pressure," he said. "We know it's a very important moment and we cannot afford to be out of the World Cup, but the only thing I know is to work, give my best and do everything there is.

"When Roberto Mancini arrived [in 2018], we were a broken team and he took us to win the European Championship. He worked on our minds above all, now we are a completely different side and we will do everything to go to Qatar."

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal has tested positive for coronavirus ahead of the friendlies against Denmark and Germany.

Van Gaal is isolating in Woudschoten after returning a positive test on Monday.

Danny Blind, Henk Fraser and Frans Hoek will take on Van Gaal's duties until the Oranje boss is able to link up with the squad again.

Netherlands face Denmark at the Johan Cruijff ArenA on Saturday and take on Germany in Amsterdam three days later.

PSV defender Jordan Teze was last week called up for the upcoming friendlies and is poised to make his debut.

The Oranje qualified for the World Cup in Qatar this year by winning Group G with a 2-0 win over Norway in November.

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini expressed his optimism for World Cup qualification as he called on his Euro 2020-winning side to prove the doubters wrong again.

The Azzurri failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup but followed that up by winning the delayed European Championships last year.

Italy are now staring at a familiar fate, however, after not progressing through their World Cup qualifying group, leaving them having to beat North Macedonia in Thursday's play-off semi-final to keep their Qatar 2022 hopes alive.

Mancini's side would then have to negotiate past Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal or Turkey in the final, but the former Manchester City boss spoke optimistically before the clash with North Macedonia in Palermo.

"We should not take the first game for granted. It won't be easy and, in case we win, we'll have four days to prepare for the final," he told reporters at a news conference on Monday.

"We have built a solid base, we are positive and we must think that everything will go well. We have two tough games ahead. We were not supposed to be here, but it happens to struggle sometimes.

"We must continue playing as we've always done. We didn't reach our targets by coincidence. We didn't want to play these games, but the lads are feeling well and that's important.

"I am optimistic because I have players who won the Euros starting from nothing when nobody believed in it. We must think about what we did to have more self-confidence, the team is solid and with quality.

"Our target is to win the World Cup, and in order to do it, we must win the next two games. We want to go to the World Cup to win it."

Mancini has handed maiden call-ups to Luiz Felipe and Joao Pedro, while Lorenzo Insigne and Nicolo Barella made the cut despite underperforming for their clubs.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, whose second-leg blunder proved costly in Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League last-16 loss against Real Madrid, is another familiar face among the Azzurri ranks, and Mancini is backing in the players he has selected.

"I am not worried, they [Insigne and Barella] have always done well with the national team," Mancini said when asked about the pair's form with Napoli and Inter respectively.

"Of course, there are highs and lows during a season. [Giorgio] Chiellini is feeling quite well and it's good that he played a little. 

"He probably won't play two games, but we'll talk and decide together. He knows his condition and he will tell me if he can play two games in five days.

Pressed whether Donnarumma's form was concerning, Mancini responded: "Absolutely not, it's better to have him with us than against."

Mancini also has Domenico Berardi and Gianluca Scamacca to call upon in his frontline, though he is slightly light on numbers at the back due to injuries, with right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo having to be replaced in the squad by Mattia De Sciglio.

"Berardi and Scamacca are doing well, but I can't reveal the line-up today. We'll make our assessments starting from tomorrow. Except for defenders, the others are feeling quite well," Mancini said.

"I don't think there are big problems in midfield and attack."

Italy great Fabio Cannavaro insists the Azzurri cannot afford to fail to qualify for two consecutive World Cups.

The reigning European champions could not top their World Cup qualifying group, leaving them having to beat North Macedonia in the playoffs semi-final on Thursday to keep their hopes alive.

Italy would then have to bypass either Turkey or Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in the final to secure their spot at Qatar 2022, which means one of the previous two European Championship winners will not be present at the World Cup.

Robert Mancini's reinvigorated Azzurri responded to failure to qualify for FIFA's showpiece event in 2018 by lifting the delayed Euro 2020, and Cannavaro explained that it is vitally that they find a way through this year.

"Between us and qualifying for Qatar there could be Portugal, but also Turkey would not be a walk in the park," Cannavaro, who won the World Cup in 2006, told Italian newspaper Il Mattino.

"And even before that in Palermo, we must beat [North] Macedonia. We threw away a chance in Rome against Switzerland [in the group stages], there is no way we can not qualify for the World Cup for eight years.

"It would be a disaster for everyone. Mancini will find the resources to be able to qualify."

While Italy push for World Cup qualification, Russia will not be featuring in Qatar after FIFA excluded them due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, a decision Cannavaro supports.

When asked if FIFA had made the right call, he added: "Yes. Football is not a world apart. It had to give a signal and it did."

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini has left out Mario Balotelli from his squad for the upcoming World Cup playoffs, while handing maiden call-ups to Joao Pedro and Luiz Felipe.

The Azzurri failed to top their World Cup qualifying group, which leaves them having to beat North Macedonia in the playoff semi-finals on Thursday to set up a meeting against Turkey or Portugal five days later.

The draw means one of the two previous European Championship winners, Portugal and Italy, will not feature at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Mancini has named a 33-man squad for the upcoming clash against North Macedonia in Palermo, with Balotelli snubbed for the introduction of Cagliari forward Joao Pedro, who was born in Brazil but has an Italian passport.

Lazio defender Luiz Felipe also qualifies under the same criteria and he features in the Italy squad for the first time, while Federico Chiesa and Leonardo Spinazzola miss out through injury.

Moise Kean, Alessio Romagnoli and Davide Calabria were also notable omissions, with Cristiano Biraghi expected to take Spinazzola's full-back spot and Roma's Nicolo Zaniolo filling in for Chiesa.

Matteo Politano, Stefano Sensi and Pierluigi Gollini - who replaces the injured Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret - all return, with Manuel Locatelli called up despite testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

Locatelli's Juventus colleague Leonardo Bonucci has made the squad even though he suffered a reoccurring problem with his calf in Wednesday's 3-0 Champions League aggregate loss to Villarreal.

Italy squad:

Alessio Cragno (Cagliari), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain), Pierluigi Gollini (Tottenham), Salvatore Sirigu (Genoa); Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Cristiano Biraghi (Fiorentina), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Lyon), Alessandro Florenzi (Milan), Luiz Felipe (Lazio), Gianluca Mancini (Roma); Nicolo Barella (Inter), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Manuel Locatelli (Juventus), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Stefano Sensi (Sampdoria), Sandro Tonali (Milan), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain); Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Joao Pedro (Cagliari), Matteo Politano (Napoli), Giacomo Raspadori (Sassuolo), Gianluca Scamacca (Sassuolo) Mattia Zaccagni (Lazio), Nicolo Zaniolo (Roma).

A request from Russia to freeze the ban on its football teams in FIFA competitions has been turned down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

CAS made a similar announcement on Tuesday regarding UEFA competitions, and this latest decision all but confirms that Russia will not be a part of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with their qualifying play-off semi-final due to be played next Thursday.

Russia had been scheduled to face Poland, but FIFA instead handed their opponents a bye to the final of their play-off route.

Poland will now play either Sweden or the Czech Republic – with that semi-final on March 24 still set to go ahead – for a place at Qatar 2022.

Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic each announced they would refuse to play Russia due to the ongoing events in Ukraine.

The Russian Football Union lodged an appeal to CAS after its clubs and national team were banned from all FIFA and UEFA competitions "until further notice".

The joint-decision taken by FIFA and UEFA followed Russia's invasion of Ukraine three weeks ago.

Russia "categorically disagreed" with the ban and submitted its appeal, while also seeking an initial stay of execution.

However, CAS confirmed on Friday that it has rejected that request, confirming that "the Challenged Decision remains in force" during proceedings.

A media release from CAS read: "The President of the Appeals Arbitration Division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport has rejected the request filed by the Football Union of Russia (FUR) to stay, for the duration of the CAS proceedings, the execution of the FIFA Council's decision to suspend all Russian teams and clubs from participation in its competitions until further notice (the Challenged decision).

"Accordingly, the Challenged Decision remains in force and all Russian teams and clubs continue to be suspended from participation in FIFA competitions. The CAS arbitration proceedings continue. A Panel of arbitrators is currently being constituted and the parties are exchanging written submissions. No hearing has been fixed yet."

Juventus midfielder Manuel Locatelli has tested positive for COVID-19, delivering a blow to the Serie A club and the Italy national team.

The 24-year-old is set to miss the Serie A clash with Salernitana on Sunday, and depending on his recovery he could also be a doubt for next week's World Cup qualifying play-off against North Macedonia.

The test outcome was revealed on Thursday, a day after Locatelli played 83 minutes as Juventus lost 3-0 to Villarreal and tumbled out of the Champions League.

Juventus said in a statement: "Juventus Football Club announces that Manuel Locatelli's COVID-19 positivity emerged today. The player, in agreement with the local health authority, has already been placed in solitary confinement."

The Turin giants suffered huge disappointment with their European exit, conceding three times in the final 12 minutes – twice after Locatelli was replaced – to be denied a place in the quarter-finals.

Juventus sit fourth in Serie A and remain in with an outside chance of challenging for the Scudetto, sitting seven points behind leaders Milan with nine rounds of games remaining.

News of Locatelli's positive test is bound to concern Italy boss Roberto Mancini as he finalises plans for the Azzurri's upcoming quest to reach Qatar 2022.

The European champions are due to face North Macedonia on March 24 in Palermo, with the winner of that game going forward to a March 29 tussle against Portugal or Turkey, to decide who goes to the finals.

Russian football chiefs have failed in an attempt to suspend the ban on their teams appearing in UEFA competitions.

The Russian Football Union (FUR) lodged an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after its clubs and national team were banned from all FIFA and UEFA competitions "until further notice".

The joint-decision taken by FIFA and UEFA followed Russia's invasion of Ukraine three weeks ago.

Russia "categorically disagreed" with the ban and submitted its appeal, while also seeking an initial stay of execution.

However, CAS, which has yet to announce a schedule for the appeal hearing, has refused to put UEFA's sanctions on hold.

"The challenged decision remains in force and all Russian teams and clubs continue to be suspended from participation in UEFA competitions," CAS said in a statement.

Spartak Moscow were Russia's only remaining representative in European club competition at the time of the decision, with opponents RB Leipzig receiving a bye to the Europa League quarter-finals.

Tuesday's CAS announcement only applies to UEFA competitions. Russia are hoping to overturn a FIFA ban that would potentially allow them to play in the World Cup.

Russia were due to face Poland in a qualifying play-off semi-final later this month, but FIFA instead handed their opponents a bye to the final.

Should Russia fail in their challenge to that ruling, Poland will face either Sweden or the Czech Republic – with that semi-final on March 24 still set to go ahead – for a place at Qatar 2022.

Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic have each announced they will refuse to play Russia due to ongoing events in Ukraine.

Russia captain Artem Dzyuba asked to not be included in the national's team's latest squad due to his family ties to Ukraine.

Last month, Russia began an invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, much to the fury of the international community.

The response has been to hit Russia with wide-ranging sanctions, which have impacted Russian businesses and high-profile individuals.

There has also been a major reaction in the sporting world, with all Russian clubs and national teams banned from FIFA and UEFA competitions "until further notice", meaning their senior men's team's World Cup play-off is cancelled.

But the Russian Football Union (RFU) has appealed the ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), with Russia still holding out hope of facing Poland later this month.

With that in mind, Russia coach Valery Karpin still named a squad for the upcoming international window, though Dzyuba – who plays for Zenit, the club owned by majority state-controlled energy company, Gazprom – will not be present.

Karpin said: "We did meet with Artem at the end of Zenit's pre-season training camp, but, of course, there were no promises for a mandatory call. This applies not only to Dzyuba, but to all players.

"On Sunday, we talked to Artem on the phone, he assured that, as he said at the meeting, he really wants to play for the national team.

"But now, due to the difficult situation in Ukraine, where he has many relatives, he apologised and asked for family reasons not to call him to this gathering.

"We agreed that we will stay in touch with him and will follow his performances for Zenit."

 

Poland have been awarded a bye through to the World Cup qualifying play-off final following the postponement of their clash with Russia.

FIFA confirmed the news on Tuesday, though Russia have indicated that they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a ban on its national teams from competing.

Should the decision be upheld, Poland will face either Sweden or the Czech Republic – with that semi-final on March 24 still set to go ahead – for a place at Qatar 2022.

That 'Path B' final will be held at the Silesian Stadium in Chorzow on March 29.

FIFA's decision comes on the back of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic announcing last week they would each refuse to play Russia due to ongoing events in Ukraine.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday 24 following weeks of rising political tensions in the region, with more than two million citizens fleeing the country.

Meanwhile, FIFA has also confirmed that Ukraine's 'Path A' semi-final with Scotland at Hampden Park, scheduled for March 24, will now take place in June.

Ukraine requested that the game be pushed back due to "the impossibility of organising both the travel and training of a team under the current circumstances".

The other semi-final in that side of the draw, the clash between Wales and Austria in Cardiff on the same day, will go ahead as planned.

However, the final will be postponed until after the Scotland and Ukraine game is played.

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