Soccer-Russia host Iraq in first home match since invasion of Ukraine

(Reuters) – Russia’s men’s team will host their first match on home soil since November 2021 on Sunday, a friendly against Iraq in St Petersburg, having been kicked out of international competition because of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Both European soccer body UEFA and global football’s governing body FIFA decided in February, 2022 that all Russian teams – national or club sides – would be suspended from participation in their competitions following the invasion.

The Russian Football Union (RFU) has touted switching from UEFA to the 47-nation Asian confederation (AFC), but its executive committee has not officially proposed this idea.

TASS reported that the RFU expects around 20,000 fans to attend Sunday’s game at the Gazprom Arena, which had been due to host last year’s Champions League final before Russia was stripped of that honour.

Russia’s men have played four friendlies since the invasion, all away from home. Russia won 2-1 away in Kyrgyzstan last September, before draws against Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.

Russia’s women have not played at home since February, 2022.

Russia, which calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation”, was prevented from qualifying for the 2022 men’s World Cup, while the women’s team were barred from participating in last year’s European Championship.

The RFU and four Russian clubs had appeals against the bans dismissed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last July.

Most international sports federations have excluded athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus since the invasion, but some are now starting to allow them back into competition.

(Reporting by Reuters, editing by Ed Osmond)