Football: Turkish earthquake puts Irish game in jeopardy

DOUBT WAS cast over the return leg of the Republic of Ireland's Euro 2000 play-off after an earthquake struck the region of Turkey where the match is due to be played next week.

The quake, which measured 5.7 on the Richter Scale, had its epicentre about 75 miles from Istanbul, near the area devastated by the more severe quake in August and close to Bursa, the venue for Wednesday's match.

Brendan McKenna, a spokesman for Football Association of Ireland, said: "We are trying to contact the Turkish FA to determine safety and we will also be contacting Uefa to discuss the matter."

More mundane problems were worrying the two camps earlier in the day. The FAI told the Turks they have only themselves to blame for the training ground row that has added an extra edge to tomorrow's match.

Turkish officials, led by their coach, Mustapha Denizli, are angry over their training ground ahead of the match at Lansdowne Road. The Belfield site is on the opposite side of Dublin from Turkey's hotel, 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 Turkey.

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."

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. 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."

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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