Scotland-Ukraine World Cup Playoff Match Could Be Delayed
FIFA, UEFA and the relevant national football associations are currently seeking a resolution to the issues surrounding the upcoming European World Cup qualifiers playoff tournament after Russia began their invasion of Ukraine last Thursday, February 24th. With Russia suspended indefinitely from international football competitions for their unjust use of force in Ukraine, Poland, one of Russia's three group opponents, look likely to bypass the semi-final stage on March 24th. In the event, Poland will progress straight to the final against either Sweden or the Czech Republic on March 29th - depending on which team won their semi-final bout. On the other hand, Ukraine, currently fighting for their country, is unlikely to field a team to take on Scotland in their group semi-final, also on the 24th. In which case, the football associations are looking for alternative dates that allow Ukraine to stay in the running.
Based on recent form and discounting the current situation, Ukraine stands a reasonable chance of qualifying for the 2022 tournament. Having reached the quarter-finals of the Euro 2020 and placed second in their 2022 World Cup qualifiers group, drawing with current World Cup holders France twice, they would also be expected to do quite well in Qatar in November. The national team has made it to the finals previously in 2006, their first-ever official appearance at the competition since breaking away from the Soviet Union in 1991. During the 2006 tournament, the Ukrainians made it to the quarter-finals only to be knocked out by Italy, who went on to win their fourth title at the event.
Earlier this week, the Scottish Football Association President Rod Petrie contacted his opposite number at the Ukraine Football Association. The SFA President offered, first and foremost, the association's support and solidarity, but also their willingness to accommodate any arrangements that facilitate their head-to-head, including the provision of training facilities in Scotland. While a formal proposal has yet to surface from FIFA and UEFA, insiders suggest that there is a possibility of postponing Ukraine and Scotland's group fixtures until early June.
The group matches, consisting of two semi-final games (Ukraine v Scotland and Wales v Austria) and a final between the two winners, need to be completed during the June window (2nd - 14th) to ensure enough preparation time before the World Cup begins, including FIFA workshops usually held 100 days prior to the tournament start date. If the postponement goes ahead, some Nations League fixtures will need to be moved to November and played instead of pre-World Cup friendlies.
However, Ukraine may not make the playoffs despite everyone's best efforts, no matter the proposed dates. While several Ukraine players are signed to teams outside of their home country, most of the current squad are domestic players for popular local teams, Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk. Those players are caught up in the current crisis at home, prohibited from leaving and facing the possibility of conscription to military service in the battle against Russia. Under such difficult circumstances, football is pretty inconsequential compared to the magnitude of the conflict and may be too frivolous a task for players to consider. However, in terms of winning the war for morale and showing the world Ukraine's strength in the face of diversity, participating could be just the ticket.
A decision on whether the scheduled playoff between Scotland and Ukraine must be made by the end of this week; after that, Ukraine will have some time before June to decide whether or not they will take their qualification race any further.