Football: O'Leary's quarantine decision grounds `gutted' Kewell

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The Independent Online
DAVID O'LEARY, the Leeds United manager, is on a collision course with Fifa after his insistence that Harry Kewell will not be allowed to play in two friendlies for Australia later this month.

Fifa, football's world governing body, has confirmed that the Australians have grounds for an appeal to force Leeds to release Kewell. The midfielder has admitted he is "gutted" that he will miss out on the first of the two matches against Brazil's Under-23 side, with the friendlies coinciding with a 10-day break while England and Scotland meet in the Euro 2000 play- offs. The 21-year-old was especially keen to play in the first game on 14 November as it is in his home city of Sydney.

O'Leary said: "I am sorry to disappoint the Australian nation, I am sorry to disappoint the player and sorry to disappoint his family, who would have been looking forward to seeing their son back on home soil. But the bottom line is that Harry is a young player and I've got to look after him. It's only the beginning of November and already we are having a very hard season.

"Harry will one day be a truly great player and it's my duty to help him along that path. Harry and his manager [Frank Farina] will argue that the match has come during a lull in the Premiership. But it's my view that it is the ideal opportunity for him to have a well-earned rest."

Under Fifa regulations, however, clubs are obliged to release players for seven international matches - either friendlies or tournament games - during a calendar year.

Kewell remains hopeful the two parties can resolve the issue, but believes the fear of injury or becoming jet-lagged influenced his club's veto.

"Hopefully there's still a chance that Soccer Australia and Leeds will sort out their differences and I can come home and do my stuff. I was looking forward to coming home like any kid does for Christmas. I was also looking forward to having a late birthday bash with my family after turning 21 in September. I'm totally gutted to be missing out."

France's Nelly Viennot will become the first woman to officiate at a Champions' League match tomorrow when she runs the line in the Group E game between Molde and Real Madrid. Uefa said the 37-year-old from Poitiers, who regularly appears in the French First Division, will be one of the assistant referees for the game in Norway.

Viennot was also an assistant referee during the men's Olympic football tournament in Atlanta in 1996. Women officials have refereed and run the line at Olympic level and in national leagues in the past.