Zlatan Ibrahimovic must "listen to his body" as he ponders his future in football after an injury-hit season with Milan, according to legendary Italian striker Francesco Totti.

The Roma icon also compared Ibrahimovic's stop-start season to the end of his own playing career, although he acknowledged he was often benched despite not suffering from as many injuries as the Swede has.

Ibrahimovic could win his fifth Scudetto in the coming weeks, with Milan holding a slight advantage over Inter, Napoli, and Juventus at the Serie A summit, but has started just 11 of the Rossoneri's 32 league games this term.

The Sweden international, who missed out on the chance to represent his country at the 2022 World Cup after a play-off defeat to Poland last month, has impressed when he has featured in Serie A, netting eight times in 19 league appearances at a rate of 117.25 minutes per goal.

But with Ibrahimovic reportedly set to miss another batch of games after suffering a knee strain, talk has turned to whether the legendary striker could hang up his boots in the near future.

Totti, however, hopes to see the 40-year-old play on if he can continue at a high level.

"Ibra, listen to your body," Totti said. "Finish [the season] with a goal and then decide. Nobody can understand it like me, it's scary. He made history, but now it depends [on his physical condition].

"I hope he will continue as long as he feels like it, but only if his body allows him to be able to be as decisive as he always has been. 

"Ibra is a lion on and off the field. But playing 10 minutes and then stopping, spending more time in the medical room than on the pitch, being given injections, that's heavy. 

"It's been five years [since Totti's own retirement], but I remember all the sensations, and watching Ibra in the last period, I relive them, even if my situation it was a little different from his. I hadn't had any particular injuries.

"I felt I could still give my contribution, but I was quickly pushed aside. I would not wish my last year on my worst enemy. It was very heavy on a mental level.

"[It was] exhausting, because when after a life on the pitch, you do not play continuously, especially at a certain age, you are not letting your body rest, you are making it rust."

 

Totti scored one goal in 18 Serie A appearances during the 2016-17 season, his final campaign with the Giallorossi at the end of an incredible 25-year spell with the club, but all but one of those appearances came from the bench.

The 45-year-old registered 250 goals and 105 assists in a glittering Serie A career which saw him make 618 appearances overall, and said he would have loved to have played with Ibrahimovic.

He also believes Ibrahimovic could move into coaching at the end of his playing career, but would need to find a club capable of matching his ambitious personality.

"If they were to propose to him to be a manager, he must immediately demand clarity and transparency," Totti added. "There are two questions to ask; what should I do? And who should I do it with?

"Ibrahimovic is a brilliant man, if we had played together, with my assists, he would have scored a hundred more goals!"

The qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup is all but over.

Some key matches still have to be played, with Wales yet to find out their fate as they wait to face the winner of Scotland's play-off with Ukraine, which has been postponed due to Russia's invasion of the country, while there are inter-confederation play-offs also to be decided.

In total, 28 nations have qualified already, and most of football's star names will be present.

That being said, while France's world champions will bid to defend their crown, Neymar will bring the Brazilian stardust, Lionel Messi will look to build on Argentina's Copa America triumph and Cristiano Ronaldo will feature at a record-equalling fifth tournament, some huge players - and indeed teams, in the case of Italy - will not be present in Qatar.

Stats Perform has looked at some of the star players who will be watching the tournament from home.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Arguably the best player in the world this season, Salah will not be lighting up Qatar with any mazy runs or sensational strikes. Given the tournament is in the middle of next season, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp may secretly be pleased his talisman will not be risking injury or fatigue, but Salah – who blazed his penalty over in the decisive shoot-out against Senegal on Tuesday – will be a big miss.

 

James Rodriguez (Colombia)

A star of the 2014 World Cup, in which he won the golden boot, James Rodriguez scored Colombia's winner against Venezuela on Tuesday, yet Peru's victory over Paraguay meant the ex-Real Madrid playmaker and his team-mates will not appear in Qatar, where James currently plies his trade for Al-Rayyan.

Luis Diaz, who has made a flying start to life at Liverpool since joining from Porto in January, is another Colombian talent who will be watching on from the sidelines.

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)

The hero of Italy's Euro 2020 triumph with his saves in the penalty shoot-out victory over England last July, Donnarumma – one of Europe's best goalkeepers – will be watching on from afar along with the rest of Roberto Mancini's players. After his error in Paris Saint-Germain's capitulation against Madrid in the Champions League, March has been a sour month for the 23-year-old.

Georgio Chiellini (Italy)

While Donnarumma has time on his side to make it to the next World Cup, the same cannot be said for Giorgio Chiellini. The centre-back is 37 and will surely not be featuring at another major tournament for Italy now.

Defensive partner Leonardo Bonucci may also fall into that category, given he turns 35 in May, while 29-year-old playmaker Marco Verratti may also have seen his final chance of appearing at the World Cup for a second time dashed.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

It was the battle of two of Europe's leading marksmen of the last decade on Tuesday, as Poland went head-to-head with Sweden, and it was Robert Lewandowski and Co. who came out on top, winning 2-0.

Bayern Munich star Lewandowski opened the scoring from the penalty spot, and though Ibrahimovic came on as a late substitute, he could not turn the tide in Sweden's favour. The Milan striker has suggested he wants to carry on playing for his country, but at 40, surely this was his last chance of appearing at a World Cup.

Erling Haaland (Norway)

Although Ibrahimovic may be approaching the tail-end of his career, Haaland is certainly not. Yet like the Swede, the Borussia Dortmund forward will not be playing in Qatar either.

Indeed, even if Norway had made it through their qualification group, it is uncertain as to whether or not the players would have chosen to boycott the tournament, having previously made their feelings on Qatar's human rights record clear. But they finished third in Group G anyway.

Arsenal playmaker Martin Odegaard is another bright Norweigian talent, though the Scandinavian nation may well fancy their chances heading towards Euro 2024 and the 2026 World Cup.

 

David Alaba (Austria)

Madrid defender Alaba could not inspire Austria to victory in their play-off clash with Wales, with Gareth Bale's double doing the damage. After a glittering career with Bayern, Alaba is on course to win LaLiga with Los Blancos, but any form of real, tangible success on the international stage looks set to avoid him.

Jan Oblak (Slovenia)

Oblak's form has dipped this season for Atletico Madrid but on his day he is still right up there among the world's best goalkeepers, though he could not help Slovenia finish higher than fourth in their qualification group, as their wait to qualify for a first World Cup since 2010 rolled on.

Robert Lewandowski's successful penalty was "one of the heaviest" of his life as he helped Poland book their place in the World Cup finals.

The skipper was on target as the Poles beat Sweden 2-0 in the playoff final to seal their spot in Qatar.

Lewandowski broke the deadlock four minutes into the second half in Chorzow after Jesper Karlstrom fouled Grzegorz Krychowiak in the box.

Piotr Zielinski sealed the deal when he slotted past Robin Olsen 18 minutes from time to secure the Eagles' ninth appearance in the finals.

Lewandowski led the wild post-match celebrations at the Silesian Stadium, but the Bayern Munich forward admitted he felt the pressure when he stepped up for the decisive spot-kick.

He told TVP Sport: "It was a special match; we knew what we were playing for. It is known that this situation around was an additional burden, but in our stadium, it was easier. 

"After the goal, it was clear that the Swedes had a desire. We played well defensively. There is potential to create even more situations, but let's appreciate this qualification and mentally prepare for the World Cup.

"It was one of the heaviest penalties of my life. I was aware of the pressure. I wanted to focus on the execution, but I knew what the game was about. 

"There was great euphoria after the penalty, because I knew it would be a key step [towards qualification]. Then, [Zielinski] scored a goal, and it worked out."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is keen to keep his international career alive despite Sweden missing out on qualification for the 2022 World Cup. 

Sweden went down 2-0 to Poland in their qualifying play-off final, with Robert Lewandowski converting a penalty after Jesper Karlstrom's foul on Grzegorz Krychowiak and Piotr Zielinski's cool finish completing the success in Chorzow. 

Ibrahimovic retired from international duty after Euro 2016 but returned to the fold last year to help in Sweden's quest to reach Qatar. 

The 40-year-old is his country's all-time leading scorer with 62 goals to his name but he has failed to find the net in five appearances since making his comeback.

He was only a late substitute in the defeat against Poland yet has no intention of stepping away from the international set-up again. 

"I hope so. As long as I can stay healthy and play and contribute something," Ibrahimovic told C More said when asked if he would continue playing for Sweden.

Pushed to confirm he did not view the defeat to Poland as his last match, he replied: "There is no answer now. 

"Everyone is disappointed. It's depressing, but it's normal when you lose. Everyone wants to play [at] the World Cup and experience a World Cup, but unfortunately that won't happen." 

 

Sweden boss Janne Andersson believes a fit Ibrahimovic will continue to be of use.

"If it's the case that Zlatan wants to be involved and he's completely healthy – because he has to be, he has to play because otherwise it will be difficult – then he definitely has something to add still," said Andersson. 

Injuries have limited Ibrahimovic to just 918 minutes of game time in Serie A for Milan this season, with the striker scoring eight times.

Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski sent Poland to a 2-0 play-off victory over Sweden, sealing World Cup qualification.

Bayern Munich star Lewandowski beat Robin Olsen from the penalty spot before Zielinksi produced a composed finish to secure the hosts' spot in Qatar as Zlatan Ibrahimovic's hopes of appearing at what would surely have been a final World Cup were dashed.

Sweden offered promise in the first half. Emil Forsberg placed an early shot too close to Wojciech Szczesny and Jan Bednarek blocked Dejan Kulusevski's effort.

Poland managed only one attempt on target during a tame first-half performance but needed just four minutes to hit the front after the break, Lewandowski rolling home from 12 yards after Jesper Karlstrom clumsily felled Grzegorz Krychowiak.

Szczesny made a stunning close-range save to again deny Forsberg, but Zielinski wrapped up the win when he robbed Marcus Danielson and slotted in after 72 minutes, sparking wild scenes of celebration in Chorzow.

Ibrahimovic came on with 11 minutes remaining but only had three touches as Sweden missed out on a World Cup for the third time out of the last four tournaments.

It's almost taken for granted that the best players in football appear at the biggest tournament of them all, the World Cup.

But look a little closer, and we can see that is just not the case. Every four years there are a handful of big names who miss out, usually those born to countries without the same footballing pedigree as the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Spain.

There are even countless greats who, down the years, have failed to register a single appearance at a World Cup finals. Either they've been something of an anomaly in terms of the quality available to their country at a given time, injury has struck, or the coach simply hasn't picked them. Alfredo di Stefano, Ryan Giggs, George Best, Eric Cantona all enjoyed illustrious careers without playing in a World Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robert Lewandowski have at least all appeared at previous editions of the tournament, so this week's qualifying climax in Europe isn't exactly the only opportunity they have to ensure they represent their respective countries on the grandest stage.

But, given their ages, it has to be considered likely that Qatar 2022 will be the last World Cup at which any of them appear.

Waiting to make their mark

Ibrahimovic and Lewandowski have, obviously, enjoyed incredible careers. At club and international level, both have titles and records practically coming out of their ears.

Lewandowski already has more caps (128) and goals (74) for Poland than anyone else ever, while Ibrahimovic is Sweden's all-time top scorer (62).

Historically, both strikers are their respective nations' most-recognisable footballers, and surely the most talented they've ever produced.

Yet, one cannot say either of them has ever caused much of a stir at a World Cup.

Of course, neither Ibrahimovic nor Lewandowski has ever played in a senior international team that would be considered a challenger for major honours – in fact, each of them has only ever featured at one World Cup.

Ibrahimovic was a part of the Sweden team that got to the last 16 of the 2006 edition, while Lewandowski made his World Cup bow four years ago in Russia.

Sweden coach Janne Andersson opted against offering Ibrahimovic a way out of international retirement ahead of the 2018 World Cup, but he did eventually return in March last year. He will be 41 by the time Qatar 2022 comes around in November.

Lewandowski will be 34, so it's by no means outside the realm of possibility that he'll make an appearance in 2026, particularly if we look at Ibrahimovic's longevity.

But there won't be room for both of them in Qatar. Tuesday's play-off final in Chorzow pits Poland and Sweden against each other for the right to secure passage to the finals and what could be a last World Cup appearance for one of these two all-time greats.

No one will be expecting Sweden or Poland to go deep into the tournament, given neither has been beyond the last eight since 1994. But it would seem a travesty if players as good as Lewandowski and Ibrahimovic never managed to score at a World Cup.

Primed for World Cup number five, unless…

While Ibrahimovic and Lewandowski are still waiting to make a memorable impact at a World Cup, Ronaldo will be featuring at a fifth assuming he and Portugal qualify.

Ronaldo first appeared at the 2006 World Cup, something few England fans will forget given his role in Wayne Rooney's sending-off during their quarter-final tussle. Portugal went on to win 3-1 on penalties after a 0-0 draw, with Ronaldo netting the decisive spot-kick.

They finished fourth that year, but in the three tournaments since, Portugal haven't got beyond the last 16.

While Portugal's success at Euro 2016 means Ronaldo should never have his international legacy questioned in future, that World Cup record must be something he is keen to improve.

Additionally, Qatar 2022 looks likely to be the last time a certain rivalry can dominate headlines in a major tournament.

Lionel Messi has already helped Argentina secure a place and, given their 30-match unbeaten run and the fact they head to Qatar as South American champions, there's every reason to expect La Albiceleste will be an entirely different proposition compared to the team at Russia 2018.

While Messi and Ronaldo have shown signs of decline this term at club level, they remain fundamental for their respective national teams – but this surely won't be the case in 2026.

Qatar 2022 should offer Ronaldo the chance to boost his World Cup goals record of seven in 17 games. While by no means poor, a player of such self-belief will surely be aiming for more.

 

Those leading the way appear out of reach, barring an utterly freak showing from Ronaldo. Miroslav Klose (16) holds the record for most World Cup goals, while the 'other/original/Brazilian' Ronaldo is just behind on 15. Then there are other greats Gerd Muller (14), Just Fontaine (13) and Pele (12).

Reaching double figures would seem a realistic target and at least put him in great company, with only 13 players reaching 10 World Cup goals in the tournament's history.

Similarly, that would also make him Portugal's most-prolific World Cup player, with Eusebio currently holding that record thanks to his nine strikes, all of which came in 1966.

Of course, it's by no means a given that Ronaldo or Portugal will make it. Up next for them on Tuesday in their play-off final are North Macedonia.

Fernando Santos' side will undoubtedly favour themselves, but North Macedonia have already shocked European champions Italy – who's to say they can't stun Portugal as well?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he will only consider retirement when there is someone better to take his place.

The 40-year-old experienced something of a European renaissance after returning to Milan from the LA Galaxy in January 2020, scoring 33 goals in 55 Serie A appearances since then.

However, 20 of those goals came in 2020 alone, with Ibrahimovic subsequently dealing with a succession of fitness issues.

The Sweden international says he wants to play as long as he can, though, which means continuing until another player deserves to be picked ahead of him.

"The future is yet to be written. I don't plan. Let's see what happens," Ibrahimovic told UEFA.com.

"I don't want to regret stopping football and then saying that I could continue to play football, because then I'd regret it for the rest of my life, seeing that I could have continued.

"I want to play as long as I can. The reality is I'll play until I see that someone is better than me, so I'm still playing."

Despite being limited to 18 appearances in the league this season, Ibrahimovic is Milan's joint-top scorer alongside Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud with eight goals.

Ibrahimovic also shared the scoring burden in Milan's last successful Scudetto charge, netting 14 times in 2010-11 – a tally matched by Alexandre Pato and Robinho – while supplying 11 assists.

Although he has continued to perform at an elite level in the intervening years, the veteran striker knows his incredible career must eventually come to an end.

"I know one day it will stop, and I won't have that adrenaline anymore," Ibrahimovic said. "This is a problem for every football player because you have adrenaline when you play football.

"That adrenaline, you will never get in doing something else because we are programmed."

Gareth Bale scored a pair of stunning goals to secure a home World Cup play-off final for Wales against either Scotland or Ukraine.

Wales have not qualified for a World Cup since 1958 and surely will not get a better opportunity than ahead of Qatar 2022.

Rob Page's side hosted Austria in their play-off semi-final on Thursday and once again relied on Real Madrid superstar Bale to prove the difference in a 2-1 win.

He netted the opener with a sublime first-half free-kick, then doubled Wales' lead with another brilliant effort, placed high past the Austria goalkeeper.

Only a Ben Davies own goal – deflecting Marcel Sabitzer's shot beyond Wayne Hennessey – threatened to spoil the Welsh party, as they held on despite Bale's withdrawal in stoppage time with an apparent groin injury.

Bale will at least have time to recover from that issue before the final, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine saw the former banned from FIFA competitions and the latter allowed to postpone their semi against Scotland.

No date has yet been set for the Scotland tie, with Steve Clarke's men instead facing Poland – Russia's planned play-off opponents – in a friendly they drew 1-1 on Thursday.

Krzysztof Piatek's 94th-minute penalty rescued a draw for Poland, albeit that goal came earlier than Sweden's decisive strike against Czech Republic.

Sweden will be Poland's final opponents after Robin Quaison finished off a smart team move with 10 minutes remaining in extra time following a goalless draw – that 1-0 victory teeing up the trip to Chorzow on Tuesday.

The Czech Republic national team have had to postpone their departure for Sweden, throwing preparations for their World Cup qualification play-off into disarray.

Due to technical faults with the plane on which they were supposed to depart, Jaroslav Silhavy's side has been delayed for 24 hours, meaning they will have to arrive only on the day before their critical play-off in Solna.

A statement read: "The Czech national team has to change the program. We can’t travel to Sweden due to a technical defect on the plane today and we will move to Sweden during Wednesday."

Originally scheduled to leave following their Tuesday morning training session for acclimatisation and rest, this complication compounds the fact they will be without injured stars Patrik Schick and Vladimir Coufal.

The winner of Thursday's playoff is set to face Poland next Tuesday, to secure a berth in Qatar.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is "enjoying the adventure" of Anthony Elanga's development, as the pair prepare to team up for Sweden in this month's World Cup qualifiers.

The veteran Milan striker and young Manchester United forward could both come into play for Janne Andersson's side in their play-off campaign in UEFA qualifying for Qatar 2022.

Sweden face the Czech Republic and, if victorious, will play Poland for a spot at this year's tournament, though Ibrahimovic is suspended for the first encounter.

Even if he is restricted to a spectator role, the attacker is looking forward to seeing his compatriot in action, sharing memories of their first meeting when together at Old Trafford.

"We're all happy and we're enjoying the adventure he is on," Ibrahimovic said.

"He just started and he's on the way up so it's good. You will have something to watch for another 20 years,

"First time I met him, we were in the restaurant in the [United] training ground. He came up to me and he said, 'you know my father'.

"I was like, help me now because I don't know who I'm talking to. 'You played with my father Elanga', and then everything clicked and I said 'OK'.

"It made me happy because I wasn't the only Swedish one in Manchester, we had another Swedish player.

Ibrahimovic played alongside Elanga's father Joseph, a former Cameroon international, during his formative years at Malmo in his home country.

Elanga was born in Malmo in 2002. The United winger would have been eligible to play for Cameroon and England, in addition to Sweden, but opted for the Blue and Yellow after representing them at youth level.

 

Milan and Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic fears the thought of retiring and says he may "disappear completely" once his playing career comes to an end.

Ibrahimovic turned 40 in October but remains a key part of Milan's squad and is reportedly in talks over signing a new contract beyond the end of this season.

The former Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United star has struggled with injuries this term, yet he has still featured 22 times in all competitions for Milan.

As well as helping to steer Milan to a first Scudetto since 2011, Ibrahimovic is also hoping to help Sweden to the 2022 World Cup after reversing his retirement decision last year.

And while he is still being called upon for club and country, Ibrahimovic does not intend to hang up his boots.

"I have this fear about retirement: what will happen next? I know I will have other possibilities and offers," he said at a news conference on Tuesday while away on Sweden duty.

"But this adrenaline I feel on the pitch, I know I won't find that anywhere else. That's why I'm having this panic. I'll carry on as much as possible and just enjoy it.

"We'll see when the time comes. I could take a break or disappear completely.

"We are programmed to wake up, train, go home and rest. This goes on for 20-25 years, but one day I'll wake up and have nothing planned. That will be a strange feeling."

 

Ibrahimovic is suspended for Sweden's World Cup qualifying play-off tie against the Czech Republic, but he will be available for the final against Poland should his side advance.

Sweden have called up Manchester United youngster Anthony Elanga for the first time, a player who is 21 years younger than Ibrahimovic.

But while hopes are high for Elanga and what he can bring to the national team, Ibrahimovic joked his country will not come close to replacing him once he retires for good.

Sat alongside new team-mate Elanga, Ibrahimovic said: "Enjoy it while I'm on the pitch, because you won't see anything like it again.

"You'll see Elanga, I say that with all due respect, but you won't see Ibrahimovic any more, so enjoy while you can."

As well as representing Milan, Barca, PSG and United, Ibrahimovic has also played for Malmo, Ajax, Juventus, Inter and Los Angeles Galaxy across a 23-year career.

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.

The Czech Republic have joined Poland and Sweden in refusing to play Russia ahead of next month's UEFA World Cup qualifying play-offs.

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.

It was confirmed by Poland's Football Association on Saturday that they would refuse to play their scheduled 'Path B' play-off semi-final against Russia.

Russia had been set to host Poland 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.

Despite UEFA's declaration, the power to decide where the qualifiers are played and whether Russia can remain a part of them ultimately rests with world governing body FIFA.

Announcing their boycott, Polish FA president Cezary Kulesza said the three national associations were working to find a "common position" and that has now been achieved. The Swedish FA said on Saturday it was not possible to play Russia "regardless of where the match is played" and on Sunday the Czech FA took the same stance.

A statement posted on Twitter read: "The Czech FA executive committee, staff members and players of the national team agreed it's not possible to play against the Russian national team in the current situation, not even on the neutral venue. We all want the war to end as soon as possible."

Football's world governing body FIFA previously 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".

It added: "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."

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."

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.

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