Football: Irish to stand their ground

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The Independent Online
THE REPUBLIC of Ireland's top football official has warned Uefa that any attempt to throw Mick McCarthy's side out of the European Championship over the cancellation of tomorrow's qualifier with Yugoslavia in Dublin will be met with fierce resistance.

Bernard O'Byrne, the chief executive and general secretary of the Football Association of Ireland, said his organisation would demand a personal hearing with European football's governing body if threatened with expulsion from Euro 2000.

The decision to call off tomorrow's match was made in Dublin on Wednesday after the Irish government refused to issue visas to the Yugoslav players - a day before a proposed peace deal in the Balkans was announced. "I know that Uefa are angry about what has happened over the past few days, but they must surely accept that it was not an FAI decision," O'Byrne said. "It was taken out of our hands.

"We are told by Uefa's competitions secretary, Guido Tognoni, that there is a range of measures open to them, including deducting three points from Ireland, ordering that the game should be restaged on a neutral ground or even expulsion from the Championship," Byrne added. "If Uefa decide on any form of punitive action, we will want a personal hearing of our case."

Uefa last night issued a statement confirming that the senior game at Lansdowne Road tomorrow and tonight's Under-21 match in Cork "cannot take place" because of the Irish government's decision to deny the Yugoslavs visas.

It remains to be seen what happens to the Republic of Ireland as a result, with Uefa promising to "take decisions at a later stage concerning the matches which could not take place in the Republic of Ireland this week".

The Yugoslav players are at a training camp in Salonika, Greece, where they are due to play a "home" game against Malta on Tuesday. "We were certain we could beat the Irish, but now we'll have to wait for the Uefa decision on the outcome of this match," their captain, Dragan Stojkovic, said. "Whatever this decision is, we'll accept it as sportsmen."

Other Euro 2000 news, page 26

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