'Give Ukraine World Cup place - but not at Scotland play-off expense', says former First Minister Henry McLeish

Henry McLeish believes Ukraine should be guaranteed a World Cup spot by FIFA whatever the outcome of a play-off semi-final appointment with Scotland later this month.

The former First Minister stressed that every effort should also be made to ensure the game at Hampden Park goes ahead providing Ukraine players and staff are in the right frame of mind to compete.

There have been some calls for Scotland to offer a bye to Ukraine in recognition of the horrors currently being experienced by the country’s natives amid the on-going invasion by Russia.

Fifa and Uefa have now acted to expel Russia from all international competitions, including the World Cup, after their original sanctions – including allowing them to play all their games away from home – were met with fierce criticism. McLeish said he was “appalled at FIFA’s initial reluctance to join the real world”.

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The SFA had already issued a statement confirming they would not permit any team to play against Russia “at any level of international football”. An amateur international side had been due to play a Uefa Regions Cup fixture in August.

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The move followed similar decisions made over the weekend by the football associations of other countries, including England, not to play any fixtures v Russia.

No decision has been made by FIFA with regards Ukraine’s involvement in upcoming games, including the World Cup play-off semi-final against the Scotland men’s team on 24 March, but the SFA stated they are “in dialogue” with the world governing body.

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Henry McLeish has urged FIFA to show solidarity with Ukraine and find a World Cup place for the national team, regardless of the outcome of the Hampden play-off. (Picture: SNS)

Scotland women are due to play a World Cup qualifier against Ukraine in April.

The semi-final play-off at Hampden was officially declared a sell-out yesterday when the remaining tickets were snapped up online within minutes of being put on sale at 10am.

McLeish hopes Ukraine can fulfil the fixture but that they are also given the guarantee of a World Cup spot by FIFA whatever happens.

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However, he insisted that this should not be at the expense of Scotland or indeed Wales or Austria, the other countries in Ukraine’s qualifying path.

Scotland and Ukraine are due to meet at Hampden Park, on March 24. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

“FIFA has to recognise that in these circumstances it is surely right that Ukraine should be given a pass into the World Cup finals,” he told The Scotsman yesterday. “What a gesture that would be from the football world. It might mean an additional team goes into one of the groups at the World Cup. How that is organised is a matter for FIFA.

“Obviously this is a very complex picture. As an act of supreme solidarity from the football world to the Ukrainians one option is Ukraine being given a place in the World Cup finals – that’s the act of solidarity – and Scotland, Wales and Austria combining in some way to agree a format where one of the teams go forward to the finals."

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An alternative format must already be found to perm one from Poland, Czech Republic and Sweden - the other teams in qualifying Path B - now Russia have been banned by FIFA. Poland had already announced they would not be playing Russia in Moscow - or anywhere else. Czech Republic and Sweden soon followed suit.

“My concern is that Ukraine might not be in the right heart to play such an important game when their mind and mood are elsewhere, with their families and with their nation," said McLeish.

“I am conscious that Scotland shares the deepest concern along with the other countries. It may well be they can help FIFA out by rearranging the play-offs and one will eventually go through as originally intended. This would mean paying a huge compliment to the people of Ukraine by allowing the Ukrainians to go through and be an additional nation at the World Cup finals.

“If the world of football wants to make a point to Putin then this is the way to do it in terms of solidarity.

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“Think out of the box and solve the problem but no basic reason in the world suggests Scotland should opt out of the World Cup. The enemy is Russia, not any other country.”

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