Football: Welsh are kept up in the air

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The Independent Online
THE Faroe Islands, with their mountains, their bleak terrain and their sheep, were - finally - a welcoming sight for the Welsh squad which yesterday endured the alarm of one failed attempt to locate the airport runway and a three-hour diversion to Norway before they arrived at their destination for tomorrow's World Cup qualifying tie.

Coming down to earth on an airstrip the smallest in Europe and one bounded on both sides by hills and traversed via a fjord is not the easiest prospect on a clear day and with fog shrouding this north Atlantic outpost it is definitely not to be recommended at all.

Terry Yorath, the Wales manager and never a happy air passenger at the best of times, was among those less than reassured when captain Hans Hansen came through to announce: 'We have had one approach to land but the weather was so bad we missed the runway. If we get lucky we will have another try. Otherwise we will have to move on.'

As it transpired Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes and Co were far from lucky and on went the 85-seater plane to Bergen. Fortunately none of the local populace was there to continue Norwegian chiding of the British footballer and the only refuelling allowed was of the kind guaranteed to meet with Graham Taylor's approval.

Four hours after their scheduled touchdown the clouds had lifted sufficiently for landing. Yorath said: 'It was a frightening experience, especially for me because I have been here before and know how close the mountains are to the runway.'

The team hotel, at Torshavn on another island, was still two hours away, by coach and ferry and the planned afternoon training session had to be abandoned.

Nevertheless Wales, injury-free and buoyed by Romania's shock defeat in Czechoslovakia last week, should have little difficulty consolidating their challenge for a qualifying place with or without yesterday's physical jerks and mid-air alerts.

In their first World Cup campaign the players, fishermen and electricians of the 18 islands are struggling, as you would expect from a population of just 47,000 (sheep outnumber them more than 2-1).

Their goalkeeper, Jens Martin Knudsen, he of the bobble hat, has conceded 28 goals and only one has gone in at the other end. After seven games the Faroese are pointless but doubtless, someone, somewhere will remind us that there are no easy internationals any more.