Football: Ilic aims to defy Yugoslav FA ban

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The Independent Online
THE YUGOSLAVIAN goalkeeper Sasa Ilic has declared himself available to play for Charlton this weekend. But whether or not he faces Chelsea at The Valley on Saturday will be decided at the last minute by the Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley.

Ilic has gone against the Yugoslavian Football Association's advice to their players by making himself available for selection.

In normal circumstances Ilic would start as first choice. Simon Royce is injured; Andy Petterson has played just one game for the club this season, and Mike Salmon has not featured in the first team for more than a year. But Curbishley will wait until after training on Friday before deciding whether or not Ilic is mentally right for such a big game.

Ilic, whose home nation is under attack from Nato forces, will not give interviews but he issued the following statement: "As I am sure you will appreciate, the last week in particular has been an extremely difficult time for me and my family.

"I have a number of close relatives and friends living in Yugoslavia who have been affected by the Nato bombing campaign and I fear for their safety. As someone living and working in England, I equally would not wish to see British casualties from this campaign.

"Some fellow Yugoslavian professional footballers playing around the world have chosen not to play for their clubs in protest at the Nato bombing - a decision which I support and understand. However, in my position, I feel that by choosing to play for Charlton Athletic I will make a greater contribution by remaining in the public eye."

Curbishley admitted that at the beginning of this week he did not think Ilic would be able to play.

"I have told Sasa I will make the final decision," Curbishley said. "He wants to play but he has had a difficult week.

"On Monday I didn't think he would be up for it, but he has gradually improved. Players are asking him what's going on all the time, and in my position I have to think of the club first.

"I understand the Yugoslav FA have been asking their players not to play. It is a mixed situation, and we haven't had any response from them. But perhaps there will be some now Sasa has made his statement."

Australian-born Ilic was pictured this week at Downing Street with fellow countryman Sasa Curcic, of Crystal Palace. Curcic carried a placard in support of his homeland around Selhurst Park last Sunday, but Ilic will be discouraged from any such act by Curbishley.

"It is a difficult position he finds himself in," Curbishley said. "You don't know which way he is being pulled when he is away from the training ground. He is getting information direct from Belgrade which we are not party to.

"But I have told him it can be time-consuming and not conducive to playing professional football. Sasa has made his statement in Saturday's match programme, and I don't think he will be going around the pitch with any other message."

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