Saint Petersburg has been stripped of the Champions League final in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
UEFA confirmed European club football’s showpiece occasion on Saturday, May 28 will be moved to Paris from the Gazprom Arena in the Russian city after an emergency meeting of its executive committee was convened this morning.
Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday with troops attacking the country from the north, east and south, inflicting enormous damage to military installations and civilian casualties.
Four Premier League clubs remain in the competition at the last-16 stage with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City taking leads into next month’s second leg ties and Manchester United level with Atletico Madrid.
Sportsmail reported on Thursday that West Ham’s owners would be interested in staging the final at their 62,500-capacity home.
Wembley – which holds 90,000 spectators – was an option but the stadium is set to hold the Championship and League Two play-off finals on the same weekend.
The national stadium is also set to host the ‘Finalissima’ between Italy and Argentina – the reigning champions of Europe and South America respectively – on June 1.
The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – capacity 62,850 – or West Ham’s home have no such concerns with scheduling but France’s capital was selected as the new venue on Friday.
The news comes with Russian troops set to arrive in Kyiv today and fighting already in the outskirts of the city, an official said.
US intelligence warned of a plan to seize an airport, fly in troops, and ‘decapitate’ the government.
Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the country’s interior minister, said Friday will be the war’s ‘hardest day’ as Russia armour pushes down from Chernihiv – to the north-east of the capital – and Ivankiv – to the north-west – in an attempt to encircle the city, where President Volodymyr Zelensky is still holed up.
The US warned tanks were fighting Ukrainian forces 20 miles from the city early Friday, before clashes were reported in a northern district of the capital just a few hours later. The fighting appeared to be taking place in Obolon, with the ministry of defence urging residents to make Molotov cocktails to hurl at Russian tanks.
Once the city is surrounded, US intelligence believes the plan will be for Russian special forces to move in and seize an airport – likely Sikorsky or Boryspil – which would then be used to fly in a much larger force of up to 10,000 paratroopers who would assault the capital.
The job of the paratroopers would be to enter the city, find Zelensky, his ministers, and parliamentarians, before forcing them to sign a peace deal handing control of the country back to Russia or a Moscow-backed puppet regime – effectively ending the war without Putin’s ground forces going to the difficult and bloody trouble of seizing and occupying the whole country.
It appears the Russians almost pulled off the plan on Day 1 of the invasion when 20 attack helicopters landed a crack team of troops at Antonov Airport, 15 miles to the north of Kyiv, where they spent the day fighting.
But Ukrainian national guard units managed to retake the landing strip overnight, scattering the surviving Russian attackers into the surrounding countryside.