Football: Training site row leaves Turks furious at Irish

THE REPUBLIC of Ireland's leading official yesterday told Turkey they have only themselves to blame for the training ground row that has added an extra edge of hostility before the European Championship play- off games between the two countries.

Turkish officials, led by their coach, Mustapha Denizli, are angry over the training ground earmarked for their preparations ahead of tomorrow's first leg at Lansdowne Road. The Belfield site is on the opposite side of Dublin from Turkey's Portmarnock hotel base, entailing an hour-long trek through the city's heavy traffic.

Although they have found an alternative site closer to the hotel, the Turks are unhappy about basic facilities, claiming they expected a floodlit area and a perfect playing surface. And they have implied that Mick McCarthy's Irish squad will "pay for that" when they travel to Bursa for the second leg next Wednesday.

It is an alarming sequel to the last time the two sides met in Istanbul eight years ago when one Irish fan died, another was gang-raped and, during the match, others were showered by plastic bags full of urine. Bernard O'Byrne, the Football Association of Ireland's chief executive, said: "We are completely blameless for all this latest nonsense. It is a storm in a teacup.

"The Turks would not listen to our advice about accommodation in Dublin even though we tried to inform them immediately after the draw for the play-offs was made. They sent their own people to have a look, but they did not contact us and have ended up complaining about what they organised for themselves.

"In 20 years of international football I can't remember a single country coming here and complaining about our hospitality. In fact, practically everyone has said how good it is."

Memories are still fresh about Galatasaray's row with Chelsea before the recent Champions' League match at Stamford Bridge, when the visitors complained of rudeness and disrespect by their hosts.

The Galatasaray coach, Fatih Terim, threatened similar "revenge" for Chelsea's visit to Turkey, where the fans are notoriously volatile, but the threat to the Irish is seen to be a matter of forcing them to train many miles away from the stadium where the match is to be played - a venue which, in itself, requires a 10-hour trip via air, road and ferry.

McCarthy is trying not to let the political implications get to the Irish squad and says: "There are two important football matches to be played here and that's enough to think about. Turkey are too good a team to resort to any sort of gamesmanship, although I've heard stories about all sorts of things which will confront us out there. For our part, I don't believe there is a more sporting and fair-minded country than us in the world."

The Irish are boosted by the return of captain Roy Keane, who missed the last three European Championship qualifying games through injury, but Steve Staunton, who took over as captain in Croatia, Malta and Macedonia, is missing and Ian Harte, his possible deputy at left-back, is doubtful with back trouble. Lee Carsley is set to take over in midfield from Mark Kinsella, who is suspended. Kenny Cunningham and Denis Irwin have started training again after knee problems.

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