Football: Scotland tie postponed as Bosnia grounded

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SCOTLAND'S EURO 2000 qualifier against Bosnia at Ibrox on Saturday has been postponed because of the disruption caused to travel from the Balkan region by the Nato air strikes on Serbia.

The Bosnians had been scheduled to fly to Glasgow today from Sarajevo, which is close to the Serbian border. But last night they were denied permission from Nato to depart for Scotland this morning.

There was confusion earlier in the day when a draft fax was sent in error by Uefa, European football's governing body, saying that the game was postponed. The Scottish Football Association immediately issued a denial, pointing out the error by Uefa as a decision had not been taken. However, in the evening confirmation of the postponement was faxed through.

The SFA's spokesman, Andy Mitchell, confirming that the game had been called off, said: "Circumstances are completely outside and beyond our control. It is too early to say what our plans are now. The players were due to depart after the game on Saturday and then return on Sunday for the match with the Czech Republic.

"Craig Brown [Scotland's coach] is disappointed by the news and the circumstances but he now wants to focus solely on preparing for the Parkhead match on Wednesday.

"That is an important Euro 2000 qualifying game in itself so we cannot immediately address the matter of when the Bosnia match can be rescheduled."

A date of 18 August has already been mooted, but Mitchell stressed that was not at the SFA's suggestion.

In a formal SFA statement they expanded on the background to a dramatic afternoon, explaining the Bosnians' efforts to make the fixture.

It explained that the charter flight carrying the Bosnian team was unable to depart from Sarajevo airport. "In light of recent developments, the Bosnian FA made concerted efforts to arrange a flight, but were unfortunately unable to do so due to the air exclusion zone in the region," the statement said. "The circumstances are obviously completely outside the Association's control. All tickets will remain valid for the rearranged fixture on a date to be confirmed."

Because of the current political situation in the Balkans, Bosnia has closed it air space for all civil flights. Velid Imamovic, head of international affairs at the Bosnian FA, said: "Nato have told us we cannot travel as they cannot guarantee our safety. It is extremely disappointing but when Nato say no, they mean no."

The Balkan crisis is having a wide-ranging effect on Euro 2000. The FA of Ireland is considering asking Uefa for a replay of their Euro 2000 qualifier against Yugoslavia if other teams in Group Eight do not now have to play games in Belgrade, where the Republic were beaten 1-0 in November.

Ireland's qualifier against Macedonia, scheduled to take place in Skopje on Saturday, was called off hours before the Nato air strikes began. Yugoslavia's home games against Croatia, also on Saturday, and Macedonia, next Wednesday, have been postponed on Uefa's orders and if the troubles in Kosovo continue they might be told to replay them in neutral territory.

The FAI think nations yet to visit Yugoslavia would have an unfair advantage if their hosts were told to play subsequent "home" matches in another country. "If Yugoslavia have to play some of their home matches at neutral venues Ireland, having played in Belgrade, may well make a case for a re-fixture," said the FAI's spokesman, Brendan McKenna. "No formal or concrete proposal has been put forward as yet but it's in the background and it will be watched by the association."

The Republic's manager, Mick McCarthy, said the way things had transpired he was "absolutely delighted" that the Macedonia match had been postponed. "But I'm disappointed in one way," he said. "We wanted to play, we had a full squad and it was a good opportunity."

Yugoslavia, Croatia, Ireland and Macedonia are on six points at the top of the group, with the outsiders Malta still to register a point. Yugoslavia have maximum points from just two games played and are favourites to qualify for the finals as the group winners as their main rivals have all played one match more.

Ireland are awaiting confirmation that their re-arranged visit to Macedonia, who beat McCarthy's team in the qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup, will go ahead on 9 October.