Russia-Bosnia friendly one day before World Cup sparks criticism

Bosnia and Herzegovina will play Russia in a friendly match in November, the Bosnia Football Association said on Friday, sparking criticism from Bosnia midfielder Miralem Pjanic and the mayor of Sarajevo.

The match will take place in St Petersburg on Nov. 19, one day before the World Cup in Qatar is scheduled to start.

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Russia's national teams were barred from international competition following the country's invasion of Ukraine in February.

Bosnia failed to qualify for the World Cup.

"The decision is not good. I am speechless," Pjanic was quoted as saying by Bosnian media. "In the national Football Association, they know what I think."

The 32-year-old former Juventus and Barcelona player has made 107 international appearances since his debut in 2008. He now plays for Sharjah FC in the United Arab Emirates.

The mayor of Bosnia's capital Sarajevo, Benjamina Karic, also reacted negatively on social media to the decision.

"Sarajevo as the city which has been under the longest siege from aggressors and me as a mayor strongly condemn the decision by the national Football Association to play a friendly match with Russia," she posted on Twitter.

Sarajevo was besieged for 43 months between 1992 and 1995 during the Bosnian war. It was the longest siege in modern European history through the 20th century.

"Unless the decision is reversed, we will cease cooperation with the Football Association, which so far has been fruitful."

Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic said they would not play their World Cup qualifiers against Russia in March, before FIFA and UEFA announced a ban on all Russian national and club teams from participating in their competitions until further notice following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) subsequently rejected an appeal from the Football Union of Russia (FUR) in July.

Russia have not played a senior men's international match since a World Cup qualifying loss to Croatia on Nov. 14, 2021.

Bosnia will be the first European team to play them since then, while Russia have also announced friendlies against Kyrgyzstan on Sept. 24 and against Iran in November.