French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet has called for Russia to be excluded from the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, following weeks of rising political tensions in the region. The conflict escalated further on Friday, with the fighting reaching the capital city of Kyiv. There was intense fighting in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, on Sunday.

France won the last World Cup in Russia in 2018, beating Croatia 4-2 in the final in Moscow.

Russia had been set to host Poland in a qualifying playoff in March, but on Friday, UEFA said any international matches due to be held in Russia or Ukraine would have to be moved to a neutral venue, as well as confirming St Petersburg had been stripped of holding this season's Champions League final, which will now be played in Paris.

That followed a request from the Polish, Swedish and Czech FAs that Russia be barred from hosting any upcoming World Cup qualifiers. The winner of the tie between Poland and Russia would have been due to play either Sweden or the Czech Republic for a place at Qatar 2022. The decision regarding where the qualifiers are played and whether Russia can remain a part of them ultimately rests with FIFA.

Speaking to Le Parisien on Sunday, Le Graet believes football has a duty to act, and said he "would not oppose" removing Russia from the tournament.

"This is something that I have not yet discussed with other federations," he said. "I lean for an exclusion of Russia from the next World Cup. This is my first impulse. 

"Usually, I believe that sport is there to reconcile people and ease tensions, but this is going much too far. 

"And the world of sport, and in particular football, cannot remain neutral. I will certainly not oppose an exclusion of Russia."

Poland captain Robert Lewandowski has backed the decision of the Polish football association to refuse to play their Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifier against Russia next month following developments in Ukraine.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, following weeks of rising political tensions in the region. The conflict escalated further on Friday, with the fighting reaching the capital city of Kyiv.

Russia had been set to host Poland in March, but on Friday, UEFA confirmed any international matches due to be held in Russia or Ukraine would have to be moved to a neutral venue, as well as confirming St Petersburg had been stripped of holding this season's Champions League final, which will now be played in Paris.

The winner of the tie between Poland and Russia would have been due to play either Sweden or the Czech Republic for a place in Qatar, but on Thursday, the Polish, Swedish and Czech FAs requested that Russia be barred from hosting any upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

On Saturday, the president of the Polish FA, Cezary Kulesza, took to Twitter to confirm they will refuse to play March's qualifier as part of the pair's final pathway to this year's tournament.

"No more words, time to act!" Kulesza posted on Twitter. "Due to the escalation of the aggression of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine, the Polish national team does not intend to play the play-off match against Russia. This is the only right decision. We are in talks with Sweden and Czech federations to present a common position to FIFA."

Bayern Munich star Lewandowski retweeted the post, saying: "It is the right decision! I can’t 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 can’t pretend that nothing is happening."

Football's world governing body FIFA said in a statement that it: "condemns the use of force by Russia in Ukraine and any type of violence to resolve conflicts. Violence is never a solution and FIFA calls on all parties to restore peace through constructive dialogue.

"FIFA also continues to express its solidarity to the people affected by this conflict.

"Regarding football matters in both Ukraine and Russia, FIFA will continue to monitor the situation and updates in relation to the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers will be communicated in due course."

Robert Lewandowski says war is against "everything beautiful in sport" as he pleaded for solidarity with Ukraine amid Russia's invasion of the country.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, following weeks of rising political tensions in the region. The conflict escalated further on Friday, with the fighting reaching the capital city of Kyiv.

Sportspeople, teams and organisations around the globe have joined in the condemnation of Russia's attack.

On Friday, Bayern Munich – Lewandowski's club side – lit their stadium up in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, with coach Julian Nagelsmann expressing his shock at the invasion.

"Everything beautiful in sport is against what war brings," Lewandowski posted to his official social media channels.

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

On Thursday, the Polish football association, along with their counterparts from Sweden and the Czech Republic, requested that Russia be barred from hosting any upcoming World Cup qualifiers. The four nations are in the same play-off pathway for Qatar 2022.

Russia had been set to host Poland in March, but on Friday, UEFA confirmed any international matches due to be held in Russia or Ukraine would have to be moved to a neutral venue, as well as confirming St Petersburg had been stripped of holding this season's Champions League final.

Lewandowski, who is Poland's captain, went on to explain that he will hold discussions with his team-mates as to whether they wish to face Russia.

"As the captain of the national team, I will talk to my colleagues from the team about the match with Russia in order to work out a common position on this matter and present it to the president of the Polish Football Association as soon as possible," the statement finished.

UEFA's decision to move the Champions League final from St Petersburg to Paris has been criticised by the Russian Football Union (RFU), which believes the move was "dictated by political reasons".

The decision came after European football's governing body condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Thursday and called an emergency meeting of the executive committee to discuss the situation.

It is understood UEFA agreed to relocate the final on Thursday, the first day of Russia's military assault, which continued on Friday. An announcement was delayed while a suitable new venue was selected.

The match will now be held at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris at the original time of 20:00 GMT (21:00 CET) on May 28.

It was also ordered that all Russian and Ukrainian club sides, as well as the national teams, must play their home matches at neutral venues "until further notice" during competitions that fall under the auspices of UEFA.

The RFU criticised UEFA's announcement, adamant the Krestovsky Arena was still able to meet requirements, including from a safety perspective.

RFU president Alexander Dyukov, who is also chairman of majority state-owned Russian energy company Gazprom, which sponsors the Champions League and the Krestovsky Stadium, said: "The Russian Football Union has been acting as a reliable partner of UEFA for a long time, not only fulfilling all the necessary obligations, but also offering and providing comprehensive support in the implementation of new projects and holding major competitions.

"The most important and prestigious of them was to be the UEFA Champions League final in St Petersburg, preparations for which have continued to this day and fully met all the requirements, including from the point of view of safety.

"We believe that the decision to move the venue of the Champions League final was dictated by political reasons. The RFU has always adhered to the principle of 'sport is out of politics', and thus cannot support this decision.

"The RFU also does not support the decision to transfer any matches involving Russian teams to neutral territory as this violates the sports principle and infringes on the interests of players, coaches and fans.

"We are always ready to provide all the necessary guarantees for holding international football matches in Russia with a high level of organisation and security."

The RFU's statement also noted that it will continue its preparations to host Poland in Moscow in next month's World Cup qualifying play-off after the Polish Football Association (PZPN) and its counterparts from Sweden and the Czech Republic – either of whom could play Russia in the second play-off finals – signed a joint statement saying they would not play matches in the country.

The RFU added: "The introduced restrictions do not apply to the matches of the qualifying stage of the World Cup in Qatar, held under the auspices of FIFA on March 24 and 29. The RFU continues to prepare for them as planned."

FIFA refused to make a snap decision on whether Russia will be allowed to host World Cup play-off matches in March but said it is "monitoring the situation". 

Widespread condemnation followed Russia's full-scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine on Thursday.

Stats Perform understands that UEFA will confirm on Friday that St Petersburg will no longer host this season's Champions League final. 

In a joint statement, Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic, who are in the same qualification pathway as Russia for this year's World Cup, said they would not consider playing matches in the country. 

Russia are scheduled to take on Poland in Moscow on March 24. If they win, they will face Sweden or the Czech Republic at home five days later.

FIFA called for the "rapid cessation of hostilities and peace in Ukraine" but stopped short of confirming whether Russia's hosting rights would be taken away.

"FIFA condemns the use of force by Russia in Ukraine and any type of violence to resolve conflicts," the statement read. 

"Violence is never a solution and FIFA calls on all parties to restore peace through constructive dialogue. FIFA also continues to express its solidarity to the people affected by this conflict. 

"Regarding football matters in both Ukraine and Russia, FIFA will continue to monitor the situation and updates in relation to the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers will be communicated in due course." 

Ukraine will also contest the 2022 World Cup play-offs, but the draw precludes them from playing at home. 

Russia should not be allowed to host World Cup qualifying play-off matches due to the nation's invasion of Ukraine, the respective football associations of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic have said.

The four countries are in the same UEFA qualifying pathway for Qatar 2022, with Russia set to host Poland next month. Should they win that fixture they are scheduled to be at home to the winner of Sweden versus the Czech Republic.

A joint statement from the trio said they would not consider playing matches in Russia following president Vladimir Putin's decision to launch military action into neighbouring Ukraine, with all three insisting a neutral venue should be found.

"Based on the current alarming development in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, including the security situation, the Football Associations of Poland (PZPN), Sweden (SvFF) and Czech Republic (FACR) express their firm position that the play-off matches to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, scheduled for 24 and 29 March, should not be played in the territory of the Russian Federation," the joint statement read.

"The signatories to this appeal do not consider travelling to Russia and playing football matches there. The military escalation that we are observing entails serious consequences and considerably lower safety for our national football teams and official delegations.

"Therefore, we expect FIFA and UEFA to react immediately and to present alternative solutions regarding places where these approaching playoff matches could be played."

Russia, Poland and Sweden all confirmed their place in the second-stage playoffs after finishing as runners-up in their respective qualifying groups.

They were joined by the Czech Republic as one of the two best-ranked Nations League finishers not already qualified or involved in the play-off pathway.

Russia already face serious sanctions, including sports-related punishments, following their invasion.

They are expected to be stripped of hosting rights for the Champions League Final, while there is serious doubt over the Formula One Russian Grand Prix.

Neymar has criticised the connection between the Brazil national team and their fans as he questioned whether the Selecao are as important now.

Brazil became the first South American team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, with Neymar set to take part in Qatar in November.

However, the Paris Saint-Germain forward, who missed a penalty in a 3-1 defeat to Nantes in Ligue 1 on Saturday, believes the Selecao's games are not talked about enough and there is no hype around their outings.

"Today the national team has distanced itself from the fans, I don't know why, but I see it through the games," Neymar told Ronaldo Nazario on the Fenomenos podcast.

"There is little comment, few people know when we are going to play. And that's bad, it's sad. In this generation of mine, when the national team plays, it's no longer important.

"When I was a child, the national team match was an event. You put the Brazilian flag in the window. There was a barbecue, there was cake and there was everything at home. It was quite an event. 

"Today it no longer has that importance, I don't know how we got to this stage. I hope that everything will come back, that the fans will once again support the Brazilian team. 

"That we'll be together to go in search of the World Cup, which is what everyone wants."

Neymar has endured a tumultuous relationship with Brazil, revealing last year that he was unsure whether he could manage another World Cup with the national side due to the mental stress it imposes on him.

Brazil remain unbeaten in their 15 CONMEBOL qualifiers for the World Cup, in which they next face Chile on March 24.

Sergio Aguero intends to go the World Cup in Qatar and hopes it will be as part of Argentina's backroom staff. 

Former striker Aguero experienced chest pain in a match against Deportivo Alaves in October and it was determined he had a career-ending heart issue. 

However, the 33-year-old still wants to be part of Argentina's campaign in Qatar this year and hopes a role can be found for him. 

"I'm going to go to the World Cup. We are going to have a meeting this week. I want to be there," he told Radio 10 in Argentina.

"The idea is for me to join the coaching staff. I spoke with [head coach Lionel] Scaloni and also with [Argentine Football Association president] Claudio Tapia. 

"We have to try to give it a go to see what can be done." 

Aguero joined Barcelona in the hopes of playing alongside close friend Lionel Messi after the pair helped Argentina end their 28-year wait for a senior international trophy at the 2021 Copa America. 

Yet the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner ended up completing an incredible switch to Paris Saint-Germain. 

Messi came in for criticism following his display in the Champions League last-16 first-leg victory over Real Madrid, which was decided by a solitary Kylian Mbappe goal after the 34-year-old had failed to convert a penalty.

"How are the French media going to kill Messi? Leo played well. Were they watching the game backwards? Leo always plays five levels above," said Aguero.

 

FIFPRO has released a study confirming 75 per cent of professional male footballers are opposed to proposals by FIFA to hold a World Cup every two years.

FIFA are firmly pushing the idea of a biennial World Cup, despite opposition from UEFA, CONMEBOL and several of Europe's leading domestic competitions.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently declared their opposition, too.

But Arsene Wenger and FIFA president Gianni Infantino are convinced that holding a World Cup every two years, rather than every four, would be of benefit to the game on a global scale.

However, a study organised by FIFPRO (the Federation Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels) and national player unions has concluded that three out of four professionals in the men's game do not want a biennial tournament.

The survey gauged the opinions of over 1,000 players.

According to FIFPRO, "most players rank the World Cup and their domestic league as their favourite competitions." However, "only 21 percent of players believe the voice of players is respected and that their well-being is considered in the context of international football governance."

The study took place over six continents and 70 different nations were represented. It was supported by the player unions of England, Spain, Italy and France.

While 77 per cent of players from Europe and Asia prefer the World Cup to be played every four years, that dropped to 63 per cent of players from the Americas and then 49 per cent of players from Africa, with the remaining 51 per cent divided between a two or three-year cycle.

From this, FIFPRO concluded that: "While a clear majority of players support the current World Cup cycle, a demand exists, particularly in smaller and medium-sized markets, to further develop and strengthen national team competitions."

Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, FIFPRO general secretary, said: "The player survey shows most footballers around the world have a clear preference to play the World Cup every four years.

"At the same time, the results demonstrate the importance of domestic league competitions to players. These leagues are the bedrock of our game and we have to do more to strengthen them both for the sake of players and the overall stability of professional football."

Kai Havertz has his sights set on World Cup glory with Germany after securing the Club World Cup for Chelsea on Sunday. 

A penalty in extra-time from Havertz, who scored the winning goal in last season's Champions League final, saw Chelsea get their hands on the Club World Cup for the first time in their history thanks to a 2-1 win over Palmeiras in Abu Dhabi. 

The 22-year-old insisted he is focused on fighting for silverware on another four fronts with the Blues this season.

However, he has an eye on success with Germany at Qatar 2022 in December as well.

"Without a doubt, I want to be a World Cup winner this year," Havertz told Bild. 

"In the upcoming games with the national team, it's important to show yourself. 

"Nevertheless, I'm focused on the here and now with Chelsea. We can still the win the Premier League, Champions League, the EFL Cup final against Liverpool, and the FA Cup. We have big goals." 

Real Madrid and Barcelona had been credited with an interest in Havertz before he joined Chelsea in September 2020 for a reported £71million. 

Havertz is a fan of Spanish football but has no doubt picking the Premier League has enabled him to develop significantly despite stiff competition for game time at Stamford Bridge. 

"For me personally, the step to the Premier League was the right one. A lot of pundits saw me in LaLiga back then," said Havertz. 

"I like Spanish football a lot, but I'm also convinced that the Premier League has shaped me a lot in recent months and helped me progress. 

"When you play for a club like Chelsea, the competition is fierce. I was aware of that from the start. 

"Nothing is given to anyone. However, I'm convinced that if I play, I will repay the trust." 

Anthony Martial revealed that Barcelona and Juventus both attempted to sign him in January, but the forward chose Sevilla as "the best option" for him and his family.

Julen Lopetegui's side brought the France international in on loan until the end of the season after limited opportunities under Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United.

Rangnick confirmed in December that the 26-year-old wanted away from Old Trafford due to a lack of chances – he had played the full 90 minutes of a game only once this season and featured for just eight minutes since the German's first game.

But the destination of Martial's move might have been different, with the former Monaco man revealing both Juve and Barca were interested in his services.

"Juventus tried to sign me," he told Diario de Sevilla in an interview released on Wednesday. 

"I was talking to my agent and told him that I preferred to go to Sevilla. It was the best option for me and my family.

"Barcelona spoke with my agent. But as I said, I spoke to my agent and told him: 'My priority is Sevilla'. And when I say something to someone, I don't change it, I keep my word.

"For me it was the right decision because I knew I was going to play and for me playing was the most important thing. 

"Other big clubs tried to convince me but I preferred to come to Sevilla because I knew that Sevilla was a very good club, a family club. For me it was the right decision."

The Bianconeri subsequently brought in Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina in a deal potentially worth €80million, with the Serbia star scoring on his debut against Hellas Verona on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Barca managed to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who terminated his contract with Arsenal, and Adama Traore on loan from Wolves to bolster his attacking ranks, which also include Ferran Torres after his arrival at the start of January.

The finances of Martial's loan were not revealed, but he confirmed he agreed to lower wages to secure a move to Spain as he looks to impress France boss Didier Deschamps ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

"Both Sevilla and I have made an effort so that I could come," he responded when asked about the finances behind the agreement. 

"I have less salary, but I also know that paying my salary is an effort for the club. So we've both made an effort. But I know that this effort will be good for both parties."

On World Cup selection, he added: "Yes. It is one of my goals. I want to do it because the last time I was not in the World Cup and France won it. So I'll do my best to be there this time."

Martial will be hoping to make an impact on Friday when Sevilla host Elche as Lopetegui's men look to cut the six-point gap on Real Madrid at the summit of the Spanish top flight.

Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini is set to miss the first leg of the Bianconeri's Champions League last-16 tie with a Villarreal after sustaining a calf injury that will reportedly sideline him for a month.

Chiellini, 37, suffered the issue in Juve's 2-0 win over Hellas Verona on Sunday and a statement on Tuesday confirmed it was a calf strain.

The statement read: "Giorgio Chiellini underwent radiological scans at J Medical today, which revealed a low-grade lesion of the deep musculature of the left calf."

While Juve have not put a specific timeframe on his recovery, reports across the Italian media suggest he is likely to miss the rest of February.

As such, he is likely to miss five matches, starting with Thursday's Coppa Italia clash with Sassuolo.

Juve are also due to face Atalanta, Torino and Empoli in Serie A before the end of the month, while they go to Villarreal for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on February 22.

However, Chiellini should be able to feature in the return leg on March 16, while Roberto Mancini can still expect to select his captain at the crucial end of their World Cup qualification campaign.

European champions Italy did not secure automatic World Cup qualification, meaning they must face North Macedonia in the play-off semi-finals – Portugal or Turkey await in the play-off finals.

If Italy do not reach Qatar 2022, it will be the first time in history the Azzurri have failed to qualify for successive World Cups.

The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland have dropped plans to stage World Cup 2030 and will instead focus on a bid for Euro 2028.

A joint announcement from the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic confirmed the decision following "an extensive feasibility study".

The committee chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Julian Knight, had previously derided the World Cup bid as a "giant, expensive vanity project".

The joint statement on Monday confirmed: "The feasibility study included an analysis of the economic impact, the political football landscape and likely costs of hosting major international tournaments. On balance, the five associations have decided to focus solely on an official bid to host UEFA Euro 2028, and have agreed not to bid for the 2030 FIFA World Cup.

"Hosting a UEFA Euro offers a similar return on investment, with the European tournament carrying a far lower delivery cost and the potential of the benefits being realised sooner.

"It would be an honour and a privilege to collectively host UEFA Euro 2028 and to welcome all of Europe. It would also be a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the true impact of hosting a world-class football tournament by driving positive change and leaving a lasting legacy across our communities.

"We believe the UK and the Republic of Ireland can offer UEFA and European football something special in 2028 – a compact and unique five-way hosting collaboration that will provide a great experience for the teams and the fans."

England, which last hosted a major tournament when it staged the Euros in 1996, failed in a bid for the 2018 World Cup, which took place in Russia.

London and Glasgow were among the host cities for Euro 2020, with the semi-finals and final taking place at Wembley Stadium.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is in favour of introducing a new 'final four' format in the Champions League from the 2024-25 season.

Under the current format, teams play home and away in the semi-finals for the right to meet in the final.

However, a 'final eight' event was trialled in 2020 out of necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with each quarter-final and semi-final played over one leg in host city Lisbon, which also staged the final.

Bayern Munich went on to win the tournament and the experiment was considered a hit, with big audience figures recorded for the seven matches.

Ceferin previously indicated he would be open to reverting to that format permanently, and the Slovenian has now confirmed he has already consulted various club presidents.

"We haven't yet discussed this properly because of the pandemic, which has taken up our day-to-day focus," he told French outlet Le Journal Du Dimanche.

"But my opinion is that it would be great. It should be more competitive and more interesting for the fans.

"I have discussed it with some club presidents, such as [Paris Saint-Germain chief Nasser] Al-Khelaifi, and they are in agreement.

"It's a simple equation to solve – we would just need to compensate clubs for the revenue they would lose from hosting the semi-final matches. That is possible.

"It would come in for the 2024-25 season at the earliest. But I doubt it could be done that quickly."

However, while Ceferin is open to change in UEFA's flagship club competition, he reiterated FIFA's proposed plans to make the World Cup a biennial competition make no sense.

"I'm sure that won't happen because it's a complete nonsense," he said.

"It's a populist project that would destroy football. It goes against all the principles of our sport, and those of the Olympic Games.

"It's incredible that a football organisation can propose that their players – on top of an already heavy schedule – should play a month-long tournament every summer.

"And just imagine how it would eat into women's football. Alongside South America, we have said that it won't work. Without us, it would no longer be a World Cup."

The United States took a big stride towards 2022 World Cup qualification with three set-piece goals in a 3-0 victory over already-eliminated Honduras in freezing Minnesota on Wednesday.

Weston McKennie, Walker Zimmerman and substitute Christian Pulisic netted the goals as USA moved to 21 points from 11 games, rebounding from their 2-0 loss to Canada last time out as they chase qualification for Qatar 2022 after missing out four years ago.

The victory was crucial for second-placed USA to move clear of the chasing pack, with third-placed Mexico to host fourth-placed Panama later on Wednesday.

The temperature dropped to minus 18 degrees in the first half with players from both sides permitted to wear full overhead balaclavas and hand warmers.

Juventus midfielder McKennie opened the scoring with an eighth-minute near-post header from Kellyn Acosta's free-kick, before Nashville defender Zimmerman bundled home a second in the 37th minute from a set piece.

McKennie and Timothy Weah almost combined for a third in the 50th minute only to be thwarted by substitute Honduras goalkeeper Edrick Menjivar.

Chelsea star Pulisic was introduced in the 64th minute and scored three minutes later, volleyed home a loose ball from a corner after Zimmerman's knockdown. Pulisic also had a late goal disallowed for offside.

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