Football: Plan to play cup earlier

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The Independent Online
THE Coca-Cola Cup could become a pre-Christmas competition from next season in a radical proposal by the Premier League, which wants to introduce penalty shoot-outs instead of replays, do away with two-legged ties and to schedule the final at Wembley for October or November.

Faced with mounting evidence that it is the burgeoning fixture programme as much as inferior technique among players that has damaged the domestic game, the leading clubs have decided they can prevaricate no longer.

The plan which they have outlined to the Football League is to model the country's secondary cup competition on its equivalent north of the border, the Scottish League Cup, with the first round involving only Second and Third Division sides in early August before the Premiership and the Endsleigh League programmes start.

Many of those clubs cast adrift two summers ago by the progression towards a Football Association-sponsored elite will be unhappy at the departure from the traditional money- spinning two-legged second round. It is hoped they will be mollified by the offer of extra cash from the sponsorship fund, or from the pool to which every competing side contributes. With an end to the second-game cushion for the big and wealthy there is, however, the prospect of increased upset opportunities for the smaller fry.

It has not gone unnoticed that Manchester United's triumph as the inaugural Premier League winners came at the climax of a season in which they suffered early defeats in both the domestic knock-out tournaments. Arsenal, contrastingly, won both cups but could not sustain a challenge in the League. Removing the competition from the second half of the season will give greater prominence to the FA Cup, which would stand alone in the new year as the route to Wembley glory and riches.

The advent of penalty deciders at the end of drawn ties would reduce the number of fixtures and the demands on the top players. Norwich and Arsenal have to replay their third- round game tomorrow which gives Norwich only the international-enforced midweek breaks in a 15-week span since the start of the season.

Mark Bosnich, the Aston Villa and Australia goalkeeper, may miss his country's vital World Cup qualifier in Argentina tomorrow week - even if he recovers from the hip injury which caused his replacement during Villa's win at Arsenal on Saturday.

Club rules at Villa Park state that a player must complete the full 90 minutes in the game immediately before an international, or forfeit his place in his country's squad. 'I just hope the gaffer (Ron Atkinson) will relent with me on this one and bend the rule,' Bosnich said.

Yesterday Australia's prospects worsened as their captain Paul Wade, who marked Diego Maradona effectively in the first leg, injured his ankle during training in the Chilean capital, Santiago. Ned Zelic, the sweeper, is definitely out with ligament damage. The winners of the match in Buenos Aires will qualify for next year's finals.

Arthur Rowe, the manager of Tottenham Hotspur when they won the League championship for the first time in 1951, has died at the age of 85.