Yesterday's draw for the fixtures of the Euro 2004 qualifying groups in Nyon decreed that England must play their last game in Group Seven in Istanbul against Turkey.
"Hell" is never the nicest place to visit, but England discovered yesterday that they will have to travel to the footballing equivalent exactly when they did not want to. Yesterday's draw for the fixtures of the Euro 2004 qualifying groups in Nyon decreed that England must play their last game in Group Seven in Istanbul against Turkey.
The timing of the game – on 11 or 12 October, 2003 – places huge pressure on what is an already highly-sensitive fixture in the wake of the stabbing to death of two Leeds fans in Istanbul two seasons ago. For footballing reasons also, this was the fixture England were desperate to avoid, although the manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, pointed out that the spectre of a trip to Galatasaray's Ali Sami Yen stadium may work in his side's favour.
The Swede was characteristically phlegmatic about the random Uefa draw, which was brought about by the previous failure of the countries to agree on a compromise. "The good thing for us is that we now know the task that lies ahead. We can now begin to work to prepare for these games and, after this summer's World Cup, be 100 per cent focused on qualifying for Euro 2004."
Then again, it was only because England failed to reach agreement following the initial draw, which also pitted them against Liechtenstein, Slovakia and Macedonia, that made a random draw necessary. That disagreement was due to Turkey wanting a home game against England as the finale to the qualifying stages.
While there is a tricky start away to Slovakia there is not another away trip until June next year. But there is the obstacle of facing Turkey at home on 1 or 2 April just a few days after a trip to Liechtenstein. That is when club managers are most reluctant to release their players and when injuries are at a premium, as witnessed by Wednesday's friendly against Italy.
The FA's executive director David Davies, who attended the original talks in Turkey, was, nevertheless, also stressing the positive. "In the way it has turned out there is a major plus for us because we have avoided travelling to play away games in the heat of summer in Macedonia as well as Turkey. That was always one of our aims. We will be working with our friends in Turkey to prepare for our trip to Istanbul, whatever its significance."
In Turkey, however, there was little sympathy and their national team manager, Can Cobanoglu, believes England's refusal to accept the initial proposals have only added fuel to the fire. "I told David Davies we must sign this now because if not we will not be giving the Turkish fans the right message," Cobanoglu said. "There have been bad experiences between Turkish and English fans and we must rebuild new relations. If we had signed this [proposal] a month ago in Istanbul the Turkish fans would have had good thoughts about the English people and the FA. Here we are back at the same point."Reuse content