Football: Poland foil England's plan for Wembley matches

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The Independent Online
England's hopes of making full use of Wembley in their Euro 2000 qualifying matches have been dashed after their perennial rivals, Poland, reneged on a deal.

The Football Association thought they had come to agreement with the other members of Group Five - Bulgaria, Sweden, Luxembourg and Poland - at a meeting in London on 1 March.

But the Poles, unhappy with the way the meeting worked out, have gone back on the agreements they made, which means that all the decisions made at the meeting will count for nothing, with a ballot conducted by Uefa tomorrow deciding instead when and where England will play their qualifiers.

Sources within European football's governing body confirmed that the Poles were responsible for the breakdown. Discussions between the two sides failed to find a way out of the impasse and with the 60-day limit for fixture scheduling running out yesterday, England will now be forced to play according to Uefa's timetable.

A Uefa spokesman said yesterday: "All the nations had until today to send us details of the fixtures. That limit cannot be extended. Those groups where the fixtures have not been organised will be decided by us after the draw for the semi-finals of the three club competitions in Lausanne on Friday."

The FA's chief executive, Graham Kelly, said after the draw in Ghent in January that he was hopeful England could play as many of their home qualifiers as possible at Wembley, which closes in June 1999 for its pounds 200m millennium refit.

Last February's defeat by Italy represented the first home World Cup or European Championship qualifying defeat sustained by England since Bobby Robson's side were beaten by Denmark in 1983.

David Davies, the FA's director of public affairs, said yesterday: "The majority of countries were satisfied after the meeting, and we were among them. We knew there were some outstanding issues and we understand these haven't been resolved - which means everything will now collapse.

"At the meeting, some of the other countries told us that the weather meant their grounds would not be fit for home games between December and March, but that is when we might have to play them."

There is still a chance that the fixtures could fall right for England, allowing them to play their main rivals at home - and therefore at Wembley - next season.

But the likelihood is that at least one of the key home games will be played at the start of the 1999-2000 season, most probably at Old Trafford, where the capacity of around 55,000 is closest to Wembley's figure.

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