Football: Defiant Hartson believes Welsh can still qualify

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WALES MAY have experienced nothing but disappointment against the Swiss in Zurich on Wednesday night but, according to John Hartson, their hopes of qualifying for Euro 2000 are far from over.

The Wimbledon striker, who has yet to score a goal in 1999, finally made his international comeback after a year's absence from the Welsh squad. And he believes that Wales can still pull off two surprises in June when they face Italy and Denmark in the space of five days.

Hartson was brought on for the last 20 minutes as Wales went down 2-0 in the Letzigrund Stadium and surrendered second place to their hosts in Group One. However, with Belarus drawing away to the group leaders, Italy, the equation is wide open again.

Hartson said: "It's not all over, we can still qualify. We had such high hopes when we came out for the game; the preparation has been excellent and the spirit really special. Everyone is really disappointed but also determined to put it right in the next two games."

Wednesday night's results have tightened up the group and leave any one of Switzerland, Wales or Denmark with a chance of reaching the play- offs.

Hartson said: "It was terrible to lose the way we did to the Swiss - so much seemed to go against us, with our goalkeeper, Paul Jones, getting injured, and later having a goal disallowed. Now the Swiss are in the driving seat after winning two games in five days, just like we did back in October when we beat Denmark and Belarus.

"They will think they are favourites for the runners-up spot. But things can change very quickly in this group, as we have already seen."

Another disappointment for Wales is that Robbie Savage's booking will rule him out of the trip to Bologna on 5 June.

Northern Ireland's Iain Dowie knows his hopes of playing in the finals of a major championship are finally over. Throughout his nine-year international career the veteran striker has always harboured ambitions of one day competing in a World Cup or European Championship.

Euro 2000 was his last chance to fulfil those dreams, but Wednesday night's goalless draw against Moldova in Chisinau has all but put paid to Irish chances of qualification.

They now stand fourth in the Group Three, four points behind the joint leaders, Germany and Turkey, with just five points from five games.

"It will be a real disappointment not to get to the finals of a championship and I know that's not going to happen now," he admitted. "It would have been nice if we could have kept the group alive against Moldova. We now have to go and beat Turkey at home, beat Germany away and beat Finland away.

"It's not totally beyond us, but it's a bit of a pipe-dream. The three points would have kept the pot bubbling, but to be fair, now the fire has probably gone out. Of course we'll keep going until it's mathematically impossible not to qualify.

"We want to get as many points as we can to help our seeding for the World Cup draw."

Dowie, who remains just one goal short of equalling Colin Clarke's Northern Ireland record of 13, is not ready to hang up his boots just yet. Despite his 34 years, the Queen's Park Rangers striker remains Northern Ireland's main forward and he will not turn his back on the manager, Lawrie McMenemy, while he still needs him.

"If Lawrie ever needs me I will always play," he said. "If I feel I'm letting anyone down - and I don't think anybody could accuse me of that in these last two games against Germany and Moldova - I will be the first to say so. Likewise if Lawrie decides it's time to move on to fresher pastures, I will accept that because I have a great relationship with Lawrie and he's been top class."