Football: Francis focused on the prize

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The Independent Online
TREVOR FRANCIS, the Birmingham City manager, yesterday admitted the chance of pulling off the greatest achievement in his career is the driving force behind his burning Premiership ambition.

After an illustrious past at club and international level, Francis knows his crowning glory would be to take Birmingham back into the top flight for the first time since 1986. But City go into tonight's second leg of their play-off semi-final trailing Watford 1-0, following Michel Ngonge's fifth-minute winner at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

Having now lost twice and drawn once against Graham Taylor's men this season, the incentive is there for his players to set the record straight.

"It is clear the players felt that they did not do themselves justice at the weekend, which is why they are very focused and cannot wait for the second leg," Francis revealed.

"You get the feeling that collectively they are determined to recover the lead that Watford have. And," Francis added, "if we achieve what we want to achieve, then it would surpass anything else in my career so far. Because of the special relationship that I have with this club, it drives me on to succeed."

Francis could make three changes to the starting line-up for the meeting with Taylor's side, who won 2-1 at Birmingham in the League on Easter Monday. The midfielders Graham Hyde (food poisoning) and Bryan Hughes (groin) both missed Sunday's first leg but are back in training and are ready to return.

While Francis may also start the game with his 16-goal leading scorer Dele Adebola in attack after his substitute appearance on Sunday sparked City into life, despite him not being 100 per cent match fit.

The defeat prompted Francis to study a video of the game but the Blues' manager added: "It wasn't a case of worrying ourselves by trying to discover some chinks of light. But we are ready to have a go in the second leg, although we know that this approach has to be done with a fair share of discipline.

"Watford must be treated with respect as the run they are on makes them the form team of the division. But there will be no greater disappointment felt by the players and myself if we do not go up."

Scotland have shot up to 21st place in the new Fifa world rankings - their highest-ever position. Craig Brown's team jumped seven places following a 1-0 friendly victory against the European champions, Germany, in Bremen last month.

The Scots have gained the most ground in the rankings published by world football's ruling body. It is just the boost Brown, the Scotland manager, needs before the vital Euro 2000 qualifiers against the Faroe Islands and the Czech Republic next month.

The Republic of Ireland have also made giant strides, up six places to 38. But England have moved down one position to 11 while Northern Ireland and Wales remain in 69th and 82nd places respectively. Despite a month of enforced inactivity, Yugoslavia retain their 16th place in the list.

FIFA WORLD RANKINGS (last month's ranking in brackets): 1 (1) Brazil 817pts; 2 (2) France 785; 3 (3) Germany 742; 4 (4) Italy 740; 5 (5) Czech Republic 736; 6 (6) Croatia 730; 7 (7) Argentina 729; 8 (8) Spain 724; 9 (9) Netherlands 703; 10 (10) Romania 701; 11 (10) England 695; 12 (12) Norway 690; 13 (13) Mexico 679; 14 (14) Sweden 673; 15 (15) Portugal 670; 16 (16) Yugoslavia 647; 17 (18) Austria 642; 18 (17) Denmark 634; 19 (19) Morocco 631; 20 (20) Paraguay 614; 21= (28) Scotland 603; 21= (22) Ukraine 603; 23 (21) Chile 600; 24= (24) United States 596; 24= (26) Slovakia 596; 24= (27) South Africa 596; 27 (25) Belgium 593; 28 (29) Tunisia 591; 29 (30) Poland 590; 30 (23) Bulgaria 589. Selected: 38 Republic of Ireland; 69 Northern Ireland; 82 Wales.

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