Football: Newcastle looking for European reprieve

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The Independent Online
NEWCASTLE UNITED were keeping a close eye on the Kosovo crisis yesterday amid rumours that they could be given a European Cup-Winners' Cup reprieve. But club officials said they are not actively lobbying Uefa for a return to the competition at the expense of their first- round conquerors, Partizan Belgrade.

Vuk Rasovic's penalty in Belgrade on 1 October condemned the Magpies to defeat on away goals. But, as the political temperature rises in Yugoslavia, there is a possibility that Partizan could face expulsion before their second-round tie against Lazio.

Newcastle's chairman, Freddy Shepherd, said the club are maintaining a close interest in the ongoing situation.

"We have heard strong rumours that we could get back in," he said. "We have yet to make an official enquiry but we will be checking it out."

A club spokesman later added: "We are monitoring the situation but we are not actively pursuing a return."

The Uefa spokesman, Massimo Gonnelle, maintained that Newcastle's chances of replacing Partizan are slim.

"Partizan are against Lazio in the next round but because they are away first they have until 23 October to find a different venue if the political situation does not improve," he said. "Nothing has been decided that the team will be dropped from the competition. That is always a possibility, but in my opinion it's unlikely to happen.

"From a sporting point of view, there is no reason why they should not take part in the next round. They could refuse to move the game, but that's unlikely."

Any second chance for Newcastle would be greeted with raised eyebrows by the club's critics, who would see it as a third back-door entry to the European gravy train for them. They won their place in the competition by virtue of an FA Cup final defeat to the double winners, Arsenal, a year after securing a place in the Champions' League as a result of their second place in the Premiership the previous season.

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