Soccer legend Pelé tells Putin to stop ‘wicked’ war ahead of Ukraine World Cup qualifier

Soccer legend Pelé urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop his “wicked” war in Ukraine on Wednesday, just hours before a Ukrainian national soccer team beat out Scotland in the first of two qualifier rounds for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

In the letter to Putin shared on Instagram, Pelé said he wanted to use the publicity around the soccer game on Wednesday to “make a request” to the Russian leader.

“Today Ukraine tries to forget, at least for 90 minutes, the tragedy that still happens in their country,” the 81-year-old Brazilian wrote. “The World Cup is already a difficult task. And it becomes almost impossible with so many lives at stake.”

The invasion of Ukraine has now dragged on nearly 100 days. Russian forces were pushed out of the capitol region of Kyiv in April but are have taken control of areas including the port city of Mariupol during its ongoing offensive in Ukraine’s east.

Pelé is regarded as one of the best players of all time. He won three FIFA World Cups for Brazil before retiring in 1977.

According to Reuters, Pelé met Putin in 2017 during a trip to Moscow for the Confederation Cup, a pre-World Cup event.

On Wednesday, the soccer legend said when he met Putin, they had “shared a big smile accompanied by a long handshake.” He added it “was unimaginable that we could one day be as divided as we are today.”

“This conflict, like all others, is wicked, unjustifiable and brings nothing but pain, fear, terror and anguish,” he wrote in his open letter to the Russian president. “There is no reason for it to last any longer.”

FIFA, an international governing body for the sport of soccer, imposed an indefinite ban on Russia from all competitions shortly after the late February invasion. Russia had been set to play Poland in a World Cup qualifying match.

FIFA delayed Ukraine’s qualifying match for two months because of the invasion. The Ukrainian soccer team traveled to Glasgow, where they defeated Scotland in a 3-1 surprise victory on Wednesday.

Ukraine will play Wales on Sunday. If the team wins, it will move on to the World Cup in Qatar, which begins in November.

Ukrainian midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko told ESPN the team has “one more and we need to win it — we need to take it or this won’t mean anything.”

“Everyone knows the situation back in Ukraine,” he told the sports outlet. “We need to show the best performance of our lives.”