The sense of antipathy that has festered between the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland flared yesterday when Clinton Morrison claimed he was racially abused the last time the two nations met.
The Birmingham City striker said remarks had been made by Alexander Frei, the Swiss forward who is serving a two-match ban and will miss tomorrow's tie for spitting at Steven Gerrard during Euro 2004.
Morrison, who scored his first goal in a year for Ireland in their 3-0 win in their opening World Cup qualification match, against Cyprus on Saturday, said: "Frei misses our game doesn't he? Well I am a bit disappointed because he made a remark to me in the game, which I owe him for. It was like a racist remark. I don't really want to repeat it. I just keep it to myself. He said it on the pitch - which I went mad about. I will get him when he comes to Dublin. We will have it out there."
Those final words may be remarks he himself will come to regret if they are picked up on by football's governing bodies.
During last season's match, which Switzerland won 2-0 to end Irish hopes of qualifying for Portugal, Frei was also seen taunting the Irish bench after scoring his side's second goal. Ireland's Mark Kinsella threw a water bottle at him in retaliation, although he escaped censure. The fixture also took place here in Basle, at the St Jakob-Park Stadion, and was bad tempered throughout with the Irish players complaining bitterly about the Swiss celebrations. "There were a lot of things going on in the game which weren't nice," Morrison said. "We owe them one."
Morrison's words will certainly fuel the ill-feeling between the sides, although Frei yesterday denied racially abusing him. He accused Morrison of "trying to grab headlines" and said that he has never had a problem at Rennes, his club side in France, where there are "15 or so" black players. "Next week it will be someone saying I threw a bottle when I was nine," he complained.
Indeed the row even served to overshadow the return of Roy Keane who travelled with the rest of the Irish squad yesterday. The 33-year-old midfielder has recovered sufficiently from two cracked ribs and is expected to play his first competitive match for his country for almost three years tomorrow. His Manchester United team-mate, John O'Shea, has withdrawn with a damaged thigh, but although Damien Duff will not train until the day of the match, because of a kick on his calf, he is expected to play.
Morrison also identified the emergence of Andy Reid as crucial to Ireland's fortunes. Reid was expected to move to the Premiership during the summer, but the £5m transfer fee demanded by Nottingham Forest was considered prohibitive. "A few clubs want him," Morrison said. "I know Tottenham badly wanted him. We've the same agent [SFX] and I know my agent is looking forward to getting him probably out in January. I'm surprised he didn't go."
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