By Andrew Warshaw
March 9 – As anticipated, Poland has been awarded a bye over Russia in their World Cup playoff semi-final scheduled for March 24 and will now meet the winner of Sweden-Czech Republic to secure a place in Qatar.
But FIFA’s decision is by no means straightforward, with Russia urgently trying to have its global football ban overturned at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
That’s not the only complication. The Swedes are also protesting the decision, arguing that a level playing field should have been applied and that Poland should have been forced to play an alternative opponent rather than have the luxury of just one winner-takes-all showdown with so much at stake.
“FIFA finally made the right decision when it comes to Russia but this decision (to give Poland a bye) is unfortunately completely (crazy) from a sporting perspective,” Swedish national coach Janne Andersson was quoted as saying.
FIFA also confirmed that in the other World Cup playoff path, Ukraine’s semi-final against Scotland has been postponed until June following a shutdown of the entire Ukrainian domestic league because of the Russian invasion.
Ukraine cited “the impossibility of organizing both the travel and training of a team under the current circumstances,” FIFA said in a statement.
The eventual winners will take on Austria or Wales for a place in the finals. That match will still be played on March 24, but the postponement of the Ukraine game necessitates that this path to the finals will have to be delayed.
All of this adds more uncertainty to the World Cup finals draw on April 1 in Qatar which was already going ahead without two of the 32 entries because of a fixture backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
An intercontinental playoff has already had to be pushed back to June and now the draw in Doha is likely to have only 29 confirmed teams with the playoff bracket featuring Scotland, Ukraine, Wales and Austria also stalled.
Contact the writer of this story at email@example.com