Eriksson attempts to placate Turkey

England coach apologises for 'misinterpreted' remarks and offers to join Senol Gunes in appealing for peace at Euro 2004 qualifier
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The Independent Football

The England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, has issued a public invitation to his Turkey counterpart, Senol Gunes, to join him next week at a press conference to clear the air ahead of the vital Euro 2004 qualifier between their two sides in Istanbul.

Eriksson made the first move in appealing for calm ahead of the potentially volatile fixture by giving a round of interviews to Turkish newspapers and television stations yesterday. He wants Gunes to join him for a joint briefing after the respective football associations have discussed preparations for the high-risk game at the headquarters of Uefa, European football's governing body, in Switzerland next Thursday.

Eriksson said: "I would be delighted to hold a press conference with Senol Gunes next week in Switzerland to look ahead to the game and again call for our supporters not to travel, as well as a positive atmosphere inside the stadium."

Gunes will find it hard not to accept Eriksson's invitation, which follows recent verbal sparring between the two countries in the build-up to the game on 11 October. Indeed, Eriksson was at pains to issue his regrets that, when speaking after England's recent win in Macedonia, he had warned fans not to travel "because you can risk being injured and can even risk your life, which happened when Leeds were in Turkey".

That sparked Haluk Ulusoy, the president of the Turkish FA, into an angry response, arguing that Eriksson wanted to stop fans coming to Istanbul as "he doesn't want them to see a defeat". Ulusoy added that Eriksson would be "sacked after the game because he will have no credibility left and will only be fit to manage the national team of Patagonia".

However, Eriksson yesterday told the Turkish media: "I'm sorry that what I said has been interpreted in the way it has been as it was never my intention to cause any offence to anyone. I do hope that the England fans heed the advice not to travel to Istanbul but I'm sure that the game will be played in a great atmosphere.

"It should be the kind of atmosphere that anyone in football would wish to play in. Football matches should be a party," he added.

Eriksson paid tribute to Turkey's progress in international football and voiced his hope that both teams would qualify for the Euro 2004 finals. While he thinks England will be the automatic qualifiers, the England coach believes Turkey deserve to reach the finals as well. "I hope, and I am sure, that both teams will reach the Euro 2004 finals. Whoever does not get through automatically still has another chance in the play-offs. So good luck to both teams," he said. "Turkey were brilliant at the World Cup and have many excellent players. They have progressed more than any other country in world football in the past 15 years or so.

"We will prepare for this game as we do for any other. Turkey may be favourites as they are at home but maybe we have the advantage as we have an extra point. I just hope that all the best players on both sides are available to play as that would make for an even better football match."

Above all else, Eriksson was keen to put the focus ahead of the match, which will decide the group winners, on football itself as much as the issues surrounding it. He may have Paul Scholes available for the fixture as Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed that the Manchester United midfielder is not now expected to undergo another hernia operation.

That could place even greater pressure on Wayne Rooney's place in the side, although Eriksson said he has not yet taken any decision on whether to start with the Everton striker.

"I have not yet decided that," he said. "It's going to be a difficult game for us but I would not have any problems in picking Wayne Rooney if that is what I decided."

There was an enthusiastic reaction in Scotland to yesterday's confirmation that there will be no seedings for the qualifying play-offs.

The play-off draw will take place in Frankfurt on 13 October and the 10 qualifying group runners-up will be drawn from the same pot for the five play-off matches to take place in November.

The Scottish Football Association's chief executive, David Taylor, praised the decision. "This is the right decision by Uefa, and shows that they have been guided by the principles of fair play," he said. "Our own efforts, and the support of those who backed our stance in favour of an open draw, have paid off."

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