Confusion in Ireland after Fifa's ruling

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Officials on both sides of the Irish border insisted yesterday that football's world governing body Fifa had ruled in their favour in a row over whether players born in Northern Ireland could play for the Republic.

Northern Ireland officials and unionist politicians were claiming victory after Fifa's executive committee said following a meeting in Tokyo it had decided against any rule change. The Irish Football Association in Belfast said this meant players born in Northern Ireland with no family ties to the south would not be able to line up for the Republic.

However, the Football Association of Ireland in Dublin insisted that Fifa sources were telling them the ruling meant they could continue to field players from Northern Ireland.

The row was sparked initially by the Republic of Ireland's selection of Londonderry-born Wolves player Darron Gibson in a senior international game. Fifa did not clarify the matter, with only one sentence referring to the eligibility row.

"The Executive Committee decided to leave the current regulations regarding the eligibility of players to represent association teams unchanged," the governing body said.

The FAI noted Fifa's legal department had previously backed the fielding of Northern Ireland-born players by the Republic.