Football / World Cup: Elaborate security awaits Charlton

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A FLIGHT of only 30 minutes awaits the Republic of Ireland today, but it could almost be transporting them into a different world. From the peace and sanctuary of their country retreat 50 miles north of Dublin, Jack Charlton's men will touch down in an elaborate Belfast security zone that has been organised on an unprecedented scale for 90 minutes of football.

For their decisive World Cup qualifying tie in the North, police have sealed off the team's route from the airport to their hotel and six armed personnel carriers will escort the coach along the way. In addition, armed officers have been posted in the hotels of both teams, while most of the public houses in the province, not just Belfast, are operating a locked-door policy, with all visitors closely vetted.

Northern Ireland's football association was never party to the moves to take the game away from Belfast and, that agreed, nothing is being left to chance even though sport, so far, has been isolated from the atrocities.

By basing themselves in County Monaghan, nine miles from the border, Charlton hoped to be in and out of Belfast on the day of the game. Fifa, the game's governing body, who insist that visiting sides are in the home country at least 24 hours before kick-off, would not relent.

'We hoped Fifa would allow us to take a bus to the game but it was not to be,' Charlton said. 'It will take us half a day to get somewhere we could travel to in one and a quarter hours but, whatever the security people say - and they have accepted total responsibility for the game - we will go along with, and will do whatever we are told.'

The Republic manager has also got in early with his team, naming it yesterday when the expectation was that he would keep it secret until just before the start. Eddie McGoldrick of Arsenal replaces the injured Steve Staunton and both the captain, Andy Townsend, and John Aldridge return to improve a side that last time out was demoralised by Spain at Lansdowne Road.

Charlton is considering nothing less than victory, but a draw might give them their ticket to the finals in the United States next summer, depending on the result in Seville between Spain and Denmark. Needless to say the North, with the farewell of their manager, Billy Bingham, adding another intriguing edge to the contest, will be trying to deprive him of even a point.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (v Northern Ireland, World Cup Group Three, Belfast, Wednesday) Bonner (Celtic); Irwin (Manchester United), Kernaghan (Manchester City), McGrath (Aston Villa), Phelan (Manchester City), McGoldrick (Arsenal), Townsend (Aston Villa), Keane (Manchester United), Houghton (Aston Villa), Quinn (Manchester City), Aldridge (Tranmere Rovers).