Football: Blues lose Zola until Cup final

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The Independent Online
Gianfranco Zola is unlikely to play for Chelsea before the FA Cup final in a fortnight, following his request to be taken off after 55 minutes of Italy's World Cup win over Poland in midweek because of his nagging hamstring injury, which he had a scan on yesterday.

Although Ruud Gullit, the Chelsea manager, stressed that this was just a precaution and that the problem is not serious, he has decided to rest Zola until the Wembley meeting with Middlesbrough on 17 May.

Zola's absence is not the only problem for Gullit, who has several other players doubtful for today's Premiership match with Leeds.

Defender Steve Clarke will not be risked with his back problem, while Franck Leboeuf is suspended. However, goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock is back in the squad and both Roberto Di Matteo and Dan Petrescu are both fit after international duty.

Uefa intends to ease Europe's congested international programme by ordering national teams to play some matches back-to-back. The European governing body's executive committee will consider a system of double-header games to be introduced on a compulsory basis, which means a national team will play two World Cup or European Championship qualifying games in a 10-day period without the distraction of domestic league games.

The body wants to force domestic leagues to suspend their programmes for certain weekends a year so that 10 national games can be fitted in. Most major leagues already do this on a voluntary basis, but this means that the club v country conflict would be removed.

Ronnie Whelan will learn next week whether he is to stay as manager of relegated Southend. Vic Jobson, the club's chairman, said: "Ronnie's contract contains a clause that in the event of relegation he can be dismissed on a month's notice. But I will sit down and discuss things with him once the season is over."

Matthew Etherington will today become the seventh-youngest player to appear in the Football League when he makes his debut for Peterborough aged 15 years and 158 days.

Wendy Toms will become the first woman to referee the Avon Insurance Combination Cup final when she takes charge of the game between Tottenham and Wimbledon at White Hart Lane on 12 May.

Nwankwo Kanu, Internazionale's 20-year-old Nigerian striker, has been cleared to return to the game following recent heart surgery to repair a deformed aortic valve, a condition which would have proved fatal without an operation.

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