London (AFP) – England captain Wayne Rooney and Scotland counterpart Darren Fletcher led out teams sporting black armbands with red poppy motifs for Friday’s World Cup qualifier,  paying a commemorative war dead tribute at Wembley that leaves both nations at risk of FIFA sanctions.

Football’s world governing body has warned the move could contravene rules banning “political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images”.

But the two countries’ football associations proceeded regardless.

“We’re just pleased that we can honour the sacrifice of those who have gone before us,” said interim England manager Gareth Southgate on the eve of the game.

The players were joined ahead of kick-off by representatives of Britain’s armed forces, who placed poppy wreaths on the pitch ahead of a minute’s silence announced by a bugle.

Advertising hoardings flashed up “Lest We Forget” messages around the stadium while many fans wore poppy emblems. 

People in Britain traditionally wear paper poppies or brooches in the days leading up to November 11, the day the Armistice was signed at the end of World War I in 2018, to remember the country’s war dead.

The English and Scottish FAs could face disciplinary action if FIFA’s match commissioner mentions the armbands in the official report on the game.

The matter would then be discussed by FIFA’s disciplinary committee, which would announce any sanctions within weeks.

The two teams could face points deductions, potentially harming their chances of reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but a fine is thought to be a more likely outcome.

Players from both sides have backed the decision to proceed with the tribute.

But the football associations of Wales and Northern Ireland have decided their players will wear plain black armbands after failing to receive assurances from FIFA.

Northern Ireland hosted Azerbaijan in Belfast on Friday, with Wales playing Serbia in Cardiff on Saturday.

– ‘Respectful’ –

Earlier on Friday, FIFA said it was a “distortion of the facts” to suggest they have banned poppy tributes.

A FIFA spokesperson told AFP it could only act on actual events.

“FIFA was recently contacted by the four British FAs (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) with specific requests related to the wearing of ‘poppy symbols’ by the players during the upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifying matches,” said the spokesperson.

“FIFA’s administration does not have the jurisdiction to take any such decision. 

“The proper body tasked with ensuring the uniform application of the Laws of the Game is the independent disciplinary committee.

“FIFA’s administration provided information to the four British FAs without making any judgements regarding their specific requests, so the perception that FIFA ‘banned’ anything is a distortion of the facts.”

English FA chief executive Martin Glenn said on Thursday: “A couple of weeks ago we told FIFA, in line with what he had agreed with them in 2011 (for a game with Spain), that we would wear armbands, not a poppy embedded in the shirt because FIFA have a law of the game that you cannot use political symbols on shirts.

“We had a row with them in 2011 and thought we had got over it. Unfortunately with the new personalities coming in they wanted to make a bit of a stand, which is very disappointing.”

Wales manager Chris Coleman has backed the Football Association of Wales’s decision not to equip his players with poppy armbands, although other tributes are planned.

“The fact the game’s live on TV tomorrow night, we’re standing by the rule that FIFA put in place, we’ve been respectful of that and I back our decision,” he said on Friday.

The Welsh players and coaching staff had earlier observed two minutes’ silence along with representatives from the military at Cardiff City Stadium, venue for Saturday’s game.

The England cricket team observed a poppy tribute with a minute’s silence before Friday’s play in the second Test against India in Rajkot.

A similar gesture is expected before kick-off in Saturday’s rugby union international between England and Australia in London.