Bari passes safety test to host Scotland's crucial Euro qualifier

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The Independent Football

Scotland's European Championship qualifier against Italy on 28 March will go ahead as planned at the Stadio San Nicola in Bari, the Scottish Football Association confirmed last night. There had been doubts about the venue because of stepped-up safety regulations following the death of a policeman at a Serie A match on 2 February. Geneva and Paris had been mooted as alternative venues.

In a response to a request from the SFA's chief executive, David Taylor, to consider the Scotland team's preparations and the travel plans of up to 10,000 fans, the commissioner of the Italian FA, Luca Pancalli, said the match would be in Bari.

"Mr Pancalli confirmed not only the venue but also that the stadium will be fully open to the public on 28 March," an SFA spokesman said.

No decision has yet been made about the kick-off time or the ticket allocation to Scotland supporters. SFA officials will travel to Bari next Wednesday to discuss match arrangements.

This weekend's domestic programme has been planned with Europe in mind, specifically Celtic's 12.30pm kick-off at Aberdeen today, ahead of their Champions League last-16 tie against Milan at Parkhead on Tuesday.

"If it was up to me I would scrap [early kick-offs]," the Celtic manager Gordon Strachan said yesterday. "I hope I'm wrong but usually in these games nothing happens in the first half. Every club I've been with it has been the same. There is something missing at that time of the day. Our body clock is not ready for it - supporters, media and players."

Celtic start the day 19 points ahead of Rangers and need four more wins, at most, for the title. Strachan may rest some players but the Dutchman Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink should return after a one-game ban. His fellow strikers, Derek Riordan and Maciej Zurawski, are injured.

Heart of Midlothian have endured another turbulent week at the hands of their owner, Vladimir Romanov, but a semblance of normality could return when they face St Mirren this afternoon. Hearts' No 1 goalkeeper, Scotland's Craig Gordon, has been left out in recent weeks - apparently on the orders of Romanov - but returns to the squad today.

Rangers host Falkirk tomorrow and will give a late fitness test to Dado Prso. The Croatian forward has been out for a month with a hamstring problem. Ugo Ehiogu and Kevin Thomson are injured.

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