Football continued to display anti-war messages following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier on Thursday – including Barcelona and Napoli players coming together in front of a ‘Stop War’ banner.
Vladimir Putin declared war on Ukraine by invading the country in the early hours of Thursday morning – with various aspects of the sporting community coming together throughout the day to condemn the day’s events.
Before their Europa League play-off second-leg in southern Italy, Barcelona and Napoli players came together in a peaceful action before kick-off – with all 22 players standing in front of a banner condemning Russia’s actions.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forward Ruslan Malinovsky scored for Italian side Atalanta in their Europa League clash at Olympiacos – before revealing a shirt that read: ‘No war in Ukraine.’
Manchester City and Ukraine star Oleksandr Zinchenko – who called for Putin to ‘die painfully’ earlier on Thursday – attended a protest in Manchester’s St Peter’s Square against the invasion.
Russian side Zenit St Petersburg were also in European action on Thursday evening, with their match at Spanish side Real Betis overshadowed by their decision to drop Ukrainian defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy for speaking out about the invasion.
Zenit are sponsored by Gazprom the Russian state energy company that pays £33million a year to sponsor the Champions League – the final of which is set to take place in St Petersburg, but UEFA have held talks to remove the May final from the venue.
In Cordoba, Ukraine’s basketball team played Spain in a 2023 World Cup qualifier and pivot Artem Pustovyi played with the words ‘No War’ written on his face. The Ukraine team were applauded by spectators and the Spain team after their anthem was played before the match.
German side Schalke 04 are also sponsored by Gazprom, but announced on Thursday they have removed that name from their shirts as due to the invasion.
Key to the connection between Schalke and Gazprom has been Nord Stream 2 CEO Matthias Warnig, a former officer in East Germany’s notorious Stasi secret state police and a known ally of Putin’s. Warning resigned from his position on Schalke’s board earlier on Thursday.
A club statement read: ‘Following recent developments, FC Schalke 04 have decided to remove the logo of main sponsor GAZPROM from the club’s shirts. It will be replaced by lettering reading ‘Schalke 04′ instead.’ Gazprom have sponsored Schalke since 2007.
Russia have launched all-out war on Ukraine with missiles and bombs, tanks rolling across the border from Belarus, troops parachuted down on eastern regions and explosions seen across the country after Putin personally gave the order for his forces to attack.
Earlier on Thursday, four-time Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel called for the Sochi Grand Prix in September to be boycotted while the Champions League final in St Petersburg on May 28 is set be moved elsewhere.
UEFA came under threat to seriously consider changing the location of the European showpiece and the football governing body are indeed expected to strip Russia of the huge sporting event.
Manchester City’s Zinchenko posted a photo of Putin with the caption: ‘I hope you die the most painful suffering death, creature.’
Yet that story post has since been taken down and Zinchenko claims that Instagram have deleted his post in seemingly a move of censorship of the Ukraine international. Sportsmail has contacted Instagram for comment.
Scared Brazilian footballers stranded in Ukraine are begging their government to come to their aid and evacuate them, while former Shakhtar Donetsk manager Paulo Fonseca, also stuck in the country, said it was ‘the worst day of my life’.
Meanwhile, the Football Assocations of Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic have demanded that next month’s World Cup qualifying play-offs be moved from Russia in the wake of the invasion.
Russia are due to host Poland in Moscow on March 24 in a play-off semi-final, before the winner faces Sweden or Czech Republic for a place in Qatar five days later. If Russia beat Poland then the final will also be played at Moscow’s VTB Arena.
But in a statement released on Thursday afternoon, the other three nations in UEFA’s ‘Path B’ route of the revamped qualifying system have demanded the fixtures be moved.
The statement reads: ‘Based on the current alarming development in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine including the security situation the Football Associations of Poland, Sweden and Czech Republic express their firm position that the playoff matches to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, scheduled for 24 and 29 March 2022, should not be played in the territory of the Russian Federation.
‘The signatories of this appeal do not consider travelling to Russia and playing 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.’