Balkan unrest fuels England travel fears

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The Independent Online

THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION is to hold talks with the Government after England Under-21 were paired with Yugoslavia in the last 16 of the European Championships yesterday.

THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION is to hold talks with the Government after England Under-21 were paired with Yugoslavia in the last 16 of the European Championships yesterday.

Political unrest in the Balkans throws doubt over whether it will be safe for Howard Wilkinson, the Under-21 coach, and his side to travel to Yugoslavia for the first leg on 13 November. It seems inevitable that Uefa will again demand the match is played on a neutral ground, as was the case when Leeds were paired with Partizan Belgrade in the Uefa Cup last month, as there has been little change in the political climate in Yugoslavia since.

There are still no commercial flights into Yugoslavia and the Foreign Office are recommending that no British tourists travel there.

The FA would be gravely concerned if there was the slightest security risk to Wilkinson's squad. Adrian Bevington, an FA spokesman, said: "Obviously there are matters of concern through drawing Yugoslavia. We will be speaking both internally and to the Government in the very near future to discuss this issue."

On the playing side, the draw appears to be have been unkind to England. The Yugoslavs finished runners-up to Croatia in a group also containing the Republic of Ireland, Malta and Macedonia. They proved to be a free-scoring team putting seven past Malta at home and beating them 5-1 away. They also won 8-0 in Macedonia. They were, however, beaten 6-2 at home by Croatia.

But England will be full of confidence after winning their qualifying group by four points from Poland and winning seven of their eight group matches.

Their only defeat came in the final match of the qualifying campaign in Poland, when a weakened side was beaten 3-1.

The captain, Frank Lampard, and the striker Emile Heskey could return to the squad - depending on whether Kevin Keegan, the England manager, decides to keep them in the senior squad for the Scotland match.

The second leg will be at Derby's Pride Park on 17 November. A 33,000 crowd saw the friendly with France at the same venue in February.

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