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Champions League final: UEFA under pressure to move game from Saint Petersburg due to Russia-Ukraine tension

The UEFA Champions League trophy on display in the ground during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League final, at the Estadio do Dragao, Portugal. Picture date: Friday May 28, 2021.

UEFA is considering moving this season’s Champions League final away from St Petersburg in response to the threat of conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The move comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says there is “no chance” Russia will be allowed to host major football tournaments as a result of its decision to “invade a sovereign country”.

The Champions League is due to be played at the Gazprom Arena on May 28 but the location is now under review, with UEFA confident it would be able to change the venue.

The governing body has previously been able to move prestigious events at short notice, including the previous two Champions League finals.

The 2021 final – which saw Chelsea defeat Manchester City – was also set to be played in Saint Petersburg, but was eventually played in Porto due to Covid travel restrictions.

Covid also saw the 2020 final moved from Istanbul to Lisbon, where Bayern Munich beat Paris Saint-Germain.

Wembley would be a possible alternative venue if Saint Petersburg is stripped of hosting rights, although the English Football League play-offs are due to be played there on the same weekend.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are rising after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised the independence of two breakaway regions, while Ukraine is considering breaking off diplomatic ties with their neighbour.

Boris: ‘No chance’ Russia can hold football tournaments

Prime Minister Johnson told MPs on Tuesday: “It’s absolutely vital in this critical moment that President Putin understands that what he is doing is going to be a disaster for Russia.

Boris Johnson has commended the 'brave testimony' of Azeem Rafiq
Boris Johnson says Russia will become a ‘pariah’ as a result of its actions in Ukraine

“And it is clear from the response of the world to what he has done already in Donbas that he is going to end up with a Russia that is poorer as a result of the sanctions that the world will implement.

“A Russia that is more isolated, a Russia that has pariah status – no chance of holding football tournaments in a Russia that invades sovereign countries.

“A Russia that is engaged in a bloody and debilitating conflict with a fellow Slav country. What an appalling result for President Putin.

“I hope that he steps back from the brink and does not conduct a full invasion.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “Russia’s actions last night are a flagrant breach of its international commitments that undermines its standing in the world.

“We have serious concerns about the hosting of international sporting events in Russia, such as the Champions League Final, and will discuss these with the relevant governing bodies.

“We will not allow President Putin to exploit sporting and cultural events on the world stage to legitimise his renewed illegal invasion of Ukraine.”

Champions League state of play: Chelsea host Lille | Man Utd at Atletico

The Champions League knockout stages continue this week as holders Chelsea host Lille on Tuesday, while Manchester United travel to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

Chelsea and United will be hoping to follow Premier League sides Manchester City and Liverpool in securing first-leg leads in the last 16, after Pep Guardiola’s men thrashed Sporting Lisbon 5-0 and Jurgen Klopp’s side beat Inter Milan 2-0.

Chelsea beat Manchester City to win the Champions League in 2020/21
European champions Chelsea host Lille in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday

Chelsea will host a side that has endured an alarming collapse, with Lille going from French champions last season to mid-table now, 23 points behind leaders Paris Saint-Germain.

Chelsea, by contrast, have recovered from a wobble to win back-to-back Premier League matches and maintain their hold on third place.

Meanwhile, if Ralf Rangnick is to win a trophy during his interim reign as Manchester United manager, it can only be by delivering the club’s fourth European Cup.

The German’s team has already exited the FA Cup, but he has overseen a recovery in the Premier League since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s firing, taking 25 points from 12 games to take United from sixth to fourth.

Atletico are led by the longest-serving coach remaining in this season’s Champions League. But fresh from marking a decade in charge in December, Atletico are enduring one of their most turbulent moments under Diego Simeone. The team is inconsistent – much like United – and Simeone is feeling the heat.

There was an encouraging 3-0 win at Osasuna at the weekend but Atletico had lost four of their previous six games in all competitions before Saturday, including eliminations from the Spanish Super Cup and the Copa del Rey.