Turkey turn on England after fixture impasse

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The Independent Online

The success of a modern football association is determined as much by its negotiators as its footballers. To that end yesterday went down as a good-news, bad-news day for the English FA.

The success of a modern football association is determined as much by its negotiators as its footballers. To that end yesterday went down as a good-news, bad-news day for the English FA.

The good came from Cheshire, where the marketing division agreed a eight-year sponsorship deal with Umbro estimated to be worth £175m. The bad news came out of Istanbul where, after an increasingly acrimonious five-hour meeting, the international department failed to agree dates for the qualifiers for the 2004 European Championship. The sticking point was England's refusal, primarily for security reasons, to agree to a potentially decisive final group match in Turkey. The other countries in Group Seven are Macedonia, Slovakia and Liechtenstein.

As they had to ahead of Euro 2000, when England reached a similar impasse with Poland, Uefa, European football's governing body, will draw the fixtures by lot. On that occasion England ended up having to take a point from their final fixture in Poland. They did so but hooliganism marred the celebrations.

Fears of similar events dogged yesterday's meeting. With a series of violent incidents blighting Anglo-Turkish meetings at club level, including the death of two Leeds United supporters two years ago, the FA is extremely worried about the Istanbul tie. With the trial of the men accused of killing the Leeds fans still to be settled emotions remain high. The FA thus wished to play both Turkish ties early in the tournament when stakes would be lower.

In the event its stand has only raised tensions, for the Turks, believing their qualification chances were best served by delaying England's visit, reacted angrily to the stand-off.

"They can't stomach the fact that Turkey is top seed," said Can Cobanoglu, the assistant Turkish coach, referring to the fact that Turkey were seeded above England in the tournament draw. He added: "They will see the quality and development of our football. Turkey has the points and place it deserves. This is not something obtained with the help of others. They will learn to respect that."

Selami Ozdemir, of the Turkish Football Federation, added: "England were uncompromising in the face of all the alternatives we presented. They are making problems because they must have been afraid."

While England await Uefa's draw, expected to take place in Geneva on 28 March, Wales yesterday concluded a qualifying programme which "delighted" their manager, Mark Hughes. Balancing financial and footballing concerns, they open their home programme against Italy, thus guaranteeing a 63,000 sell-out at the Millennium Stadium. They close the programme with home ties against Finland and Yugoslavia, their main rivals for second place should Italy live up to their seeding.

Hughes was also pleased to avoid close-season fixtures in June 2003 and a double-header in the week Wales travel to Azerbaijan. "I wanted to avoid the problems of travel and tiredness that occurred when we played Armenia in the recent World Cup qualifiers," Hughes said.

Meanwhile, the FA will today announce the venues for the FA Cup semi-finals. Highbury is expected to stage the London derby between Chelsea and Fulham while provisional venues will be listed for the tie between Middlesbrough and Newcastle or Arsenal. Should it prove to be a north-east derby the Stadium of Light may host while Old Trafford, or Villa Park, will stage the tie should Arsenal go through.

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