Turks turn their anger on Blatter over bans

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The Independent Football

Fifa has ordered Turkey to play their next six competitive matches behind closed doors and on neutral grounds - in effect taking their entire qualification programme for the 2008 European Championship abroad. Action was also taken against several players and officials.

Turkey's sports minister, Mehmet Ali Sahin, claims that the disciplinary committee acted according to the wishes of Fifa's Swiss president, Sepp Blatter. Sahin said: "I find this decision unacceptable. This is simply the approval of what Sepp Blatter said right after the game without even looking at the observer and referee reports on the game.

"That's why I think this decision is more political than sporting. The punishment was given at the time Sepp Blatter made that speech. We will take the matter wherever necessary. I hope they correct it."

The day after the match, Blatter accused Turkey of forcing Switzerland to "steal from the pitch like thieves" rather than be allowed to celebrate their success.

"Fair play was trodden underfoot in Istanbul. We will take severe measures," said Blatter.

Violence erupted after the final whistle as players and officials were involved in a mass brawl on the pitch and in the tunnel. The Swiss player Benjamin Huggel was filmed kicking out at the Turkey assistant coach Mehmet Ozdilek. The violence continued in the tunnel. The Swiss defender Stephane Grichting was taken to hospital and needed to have a catheter inserted after being kicked in the stomach.

Fifa's punishments included six-match bans for the Newcastle midfielder Emre, the former Aston Villa defender Alpay, now with Cologne, and Huggel. Ozdilek was banned from all football-related activity for a year and two-match bans were given to the Turkish player Serkan Balci and Switzerland's physio, Stephan Meyer.

The Turkish Football Federation and the players given six-match bans can appeal, and can also go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne as a last resort.

The Uefa vice-president Senes Erzik - also honorary president of the TFF - believes Turkey could have been banned from the next World Cup. He said: "Looking at this decision, it looks like we were close to being banned from competitions. There are two dimensions to this event - the players and the TFF.

"But we cannot separate them here. The players are our players and the game was played in our country. It does not matter how provocative they were, you have to take the necessary security measurements as the host. The attacker of the injured Swiss player could not be identified. This proves that there were not enough security measurements taken. I believe we were penalised because of the security."

The Turkish press responded angrily. "A clash of civilisations," said the Yeni Safak newspaper. "The increasing political hostility in Europe is reflected in the decisions of Fifa's disciplinary committee."

"What is the spectator's crime? An unjust punishment from Fifa," the Sabah newspaper said. The paper published Fifa's phone and fax numbers and called on readers to send a protest letter to Blatter, providing a sample letter. "It is clear that you don't like to see our country in Switzerland at Euro 2008 but I am sure we will succeed in qualifying for the finals. We will be there," the letter said.

The Swiss media agreed that Turkey had been let off lightly - there had been speculation that the team could be banned from the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign after the violent scenes. A daily, Blick, said: "Verdict is ridiculously soft".

Switzerland's coach, Kobi Kuhn, criticised Fifa for denying Huggel, 28, the chance to play in the World Cup finals. Kuhn said: "The punishment for Beni has surprised and disconcerted me. I feel it is totally unfair that Benjamin has been judged in the same manner as the rest of them. Alpay and Emre will be back after half of the [Euro 2008] qualifiers but Huggel will miss the World Cup and some qualifiers. For me, that is a double punishment."

* Players from Galatasaray boycotted training yesterday after hearing two of the Istanbul club's foreign players had received their salaries, despite others reportedly not having been paid for four months.

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