Soccer-Ukraine team heads to Cyprus for U.S. friendly

by Reuters
Tuesday, 4 March 2014 10:27 GMT

* Ukraine FA changes mind over trip to Cyprus

* Team leaves for airport (Adds confirmation from Ukraine)

KIEV, March 4 (Reuters) - Ukraine have confirmed the national side will travel to Cyprus for a friendly against the United States on Wednesday after initially saying the trip was off following Russia's military intervention in the country's autonomous region of Crimea.

"The Ukrainian team will depart for the game. There is no question about this," Ukrainian Minister for Youth Politics and Sport Dmitri Bulatov said on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

"I wish our team play well, are victorious and for the guys to be in good spirits," he added, with press officer Olexandr Hlyvynskiy telling Reuters by telephone that the team was on its way to Boryspil airport.

A day earlier, football federation president Anatoliy Konkov said his players would not head to Cyprus for the friendly, originally scheduled in Kharkiv but moved because of Ukraine's unstable political situation and after U.S. requests.

"We cannot hold the national championship so what kind of football can we talk of at all? If we do not have an opportunity to play on home soil, why shall we go to Cyprus in those troubled times for your country?" Konkov said.

"We play for our people and country. Our team do not fly to Cyprus and stay at home," he told the ICTV channel.


Ukraine's Premier League also postponed the restart of the domestic championship after the mid-season break following Russia's military intervention.

However, later on Monday, U.S. Soccer said on its Twitter feed that the game would go ahead.

"The Football Federation of Ukraine confirmed that their team will travel to Cyprus and the match will proceed as scheduled," it said.

Officials at the Antonis Papadopoulos stadium in Larnaca, Cyprus, the venue for the match, also insisted the fixture would go ahead as scheduled.

Russian President Vladimir Putin won permission from his parliament on Saturday to use military force in Ukraine. The stated purpose was to protect ethnic Russians following the ouster of Ukraine's Russian-backed president a week ago.

Putin got the green light from parliament after Russian forces had already gained control of Crimea, an isolated Black Sea peninsula with an ethnic Russian majority and where Moscow has long had a naval base.

The United States is preparing to impose sanctions on Russia for its military intervention in Crimea, although no decision had yet been made, the U.S. State Department said on Monday. (Reporting by Igor Nitsak and Jahmal Corner; Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Nicosia; Writing by Amlan Chakraborty; Editing by John O'Brien)

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