Football: Jet lag exhausts Britain's European jet set

Adam Szreter follows the travels of Britain's foreign contingent in last week's international `double-header'
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The Independent Online
WHILE THE mid-season international "double header" has been receiving votes of confidence all round from national managers and seems certain to become part of the scenery of European football, managers may be entitled to feel short changed by the new arrangement as leading players return to domestic duty this weekend with their air miles boosted but their batteries run down.

Apart from matches involving the four home unions and the Republic of Ireland, 50 players from British clubs were involved in some way with European Championship qualifying games over the past week, from Sheffield Wednesday's Macedonian, Goce Sedloski, to Jesper Blomqvist of Sweden and Manchester United.

For some, like the Swiss pair, Stephane Henchoz of Blackburn and Tottenham's Ramon Vega, the travelling proved easier to bear than the results: a short trip from Switzerland across the Dolomites to be beaten 2-0 by Italy in Udine, and then back to Zurich to concede a last-minute equaliser to Denmark on Wednesday.

Martin Hiden, of Leeds United, began his week in Cyprus and came back via San Marino, but resounding victories for Austria in both games should have been enough to render the in-flight entertainment redundant; he may even have passed Israel's unhappy Hammer, Eyal Berkovic, en route between softening up San Marino for the Austrians last Saturday and coming back down to earth in Tel Aviv against Spain four days later.

Newcastle United's Timuri Ketsbaia will probably be in need of a Viagra injection to play sexy football for Ruud Gullit at home to Derby County this afternoon after the week he has had. The trip from Georgia across half of the old Soviet Union to Latvia was rewarded by a disastrous 1-0 defeat in Riga and followed by an equally arduous journey south to Athens for a 3-0 thumping by Greece. At least he will have had company on the way back to Newcastle from his Greek club-mate, Nicos Dabizas, but what they talked about - and in what language - is anybody's guess.

Britain's Finnish contingent, mostly based north of the border, started with a gentle cruise across the Irish Sea to Belfast, where they were rudely awoken by Keith Rowlands' first-half winner for Lawrie McMenemy's men. But the subsequent trip to Turkey proved more fruitful as the conquerors of Germany were fleeced by the Finns, for whom Mixu Paatelainen - now of Hibernian - and Rangers' Jonatan Johansson were on the scoresheet in a 3-0 victory.

A 10-strong Norwegian contingent set out from these shores to represent their country in Slovenia last weekend, when they gained a 2-1 win, although any hangover for Tore Andre Flo and co today will be down to being held at home by Albania on Wednesday, a late equaliser from Manchester United's Henning Berg narrowly averting total humiliation.

But the award to top international football travellers of the week, by many miles, has to be shared between four players who represent all three divisions of the Nationwide League and the Scottish Premier League, as well as their country, Iceland.

Dundee United's Sigurdur Jonsson, Arnar Gunnlaugsson of Bolton Wanderers, Stoke City's Larus Sigurdsson and Hermann Hreidarsson, once of Crystal Palace but now of Third Division Brentford, set off from Reykjavik, the European international game's westernmost outpost, and flew to Armenia to play out a goalless draw in front of 6,000 people at Yerevan a week ago. Only Azerbaijan would have been further.

They then made the long trip back in time to play host to Russia, where an 88th-minute own-goal by the Dynamo Moscow defender Yuri Kovtun ensured geysers all over the country were exploding in celebration.

After three games, Iceland remain unbeaten but with journeys to Kiev and Moscow still to come, it will be as much a test of stamina as ability for Messrs Jonsson, Gunnlaugsson, Sigurdsson and Hreidarsson, who today finds himself playing for Brentford against Hartlepool at Griffin Park. He might just be suffering from a mild case of culture shock.

ENGLISH LEAGUE PLAYERS RETURNING FROM CORNERS OF EUROPE

British-based players involved in international matches (excluding England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland) over the past week.

AUSTRIA: Martin Hiden (Leeds).

CROATIA: Igor Stimac (Derby).

CZECH REPUBLIC: Patrik Berger (Liverpool).

DENMARK: Marc Rieper (Celtic), Per Frandsen (Bolton Wanderers), Allan Nielsen (Tottenham Hotspur), Mikkel Beck (Middlesbrough).

ESTONIA: Mart Poom (Derby).

FINLAND: Antti Niemi (Rangers), Jussi Jaaskelainen (Bolton), Jonatan Johansson (Rangers), Mixu Paatelainen (Hibernian), Simo Valakari (Motherwell).

FRANCE: Marcel Desailly (Chelsea), Franck Leboeuf (Chelsea), Patrick Vieira (Arsenal), Nicolas Anelka (Arsenal).

GEORGIA: Murtaz Shelia (Manchester City), Timuri Ketsbaia (Newcastle United).

GREECE: Nicos Dabizas (Newcastle), Vassilis Borbokis (Sheffield United), Theodoros Zagorakis (Leicester City).

ICELAND: Sigurdur Jonsson (Dundee United), Arnar Gunnlaugsson (Bolton), Larus Orri Sigurdsson (Stoke City), Hermann Hreidarsson (Brentford).

ISRAEL: Eyal Berkovic (West Ham United).

MACEDONIA: Goce Sedloski (Sheffield Wednesday).

NORWAY: Espen Baardsen (Tottenham), Thomas Myhre (Everton), Henning Berg (Manchester United), Stig Inge Bjornebye (Liverpool), Vegard Heggem (Liverpool), Alf Inge Haland (Leeds United), Ronny Johnsen (Manchester Utd), Tore Andre Flo (Chelsea), Petter Rudi (Sheffield Wednesday), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester Utd).

ROMANIA: Dan Petrescu (Chelsea).

RUSSIA: Dmitri Kharin (Chelsea).

SLOVAKIA: Vladimir Kinder (Middlesbrough).

SPAIN: Albert Ferrer (Chelsea).

SWEDEN: Magnus Hedman (Coventry City), Pontus Kamark (Leicester City), Roland Nilsson (Coventry), Jesper Blomqvist (Manchester United), Henrik Larsson (Celtic), Fredrik Ljungberg (Arsenal).

SWITZERLAND: Stephane Henchoz (Blackburn), Ramon Vega (Tottenham).

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