Uefa plans for a footballing 'Davis Cup' dismay the FA

The football association reacted warily yesterday to proposals for a new competition between European nations. Uefa, meeting in Prague, presented three options for competitions to occupy fixture dates currently allocated to friendly matches.

The football association reacted warily yesterday to proposals for a new competition between European nations. Uefa, meeting in Prague, presented three options for competitions to occupy fixture dates currently allocated to friendly matches.

The impetus has come from the smaller and mid-ranking nations which struggle to find attractive opposition for friendlies. The suggestions are: a competition based on the Davis Cup in tennis; a similar tournament over three years; and a three-year knock-out cup finishing with a small tournament the summer before a European Championship. All three suggestions are likely to involve leading nations being seeded, thus committing them to play fewer fixtures.

Even so, the FA, acutely aware of resistance to an expansion of the international calender from Premiership clubs, were cautious.

Lars Christer Olsson, Uefa's director of professional football and marketing, told the conference: "We need to make friendlies more competitive without losing the advantage they have for coaches to be able to test and school new players outside the traditional qualification matches for the European Championship and the World Cup.

"Any new competition would be launched with the idea of making it easier for member associations to plan matches and for them to have a more secure financial footing than they do now.''

David Davies, the executive director of the FA, said: ''The problem is balancing the needs of the national team with those of the clubs. We have only played two friendlies all year to free up the players because of the needs of their clubs."

The FA prefers to play a few prestige matches against quality opposition, such as the forthcoming games against Sweden, Italy and the Netherlands, rather than smaller, less demanding and attractive opponents.

The alternative view was expressed by Jim Boyce, the president of the Northern Ireland Football Association. He told the conference of presidents and general secretaries of Uefa's 51 member associations: ''It is getting harder and harder for smaller associations to play prestige friendlies against the bigger countries. So you end up playing a friendly against another small or middle-ranking team and the public are not interested. They do not want to watch these matches. I think this is a step most smaller associations would welcome. Once there is a competitive edge, the matches become more interesting."

The Uefa chief executive, Gerhard Aigner, said: "If you had a three-year competition then it could start in 2004 to produce a final in 2007, the year before the 2008 European Championship. But these are very initial ideas. There is still a lot of discussion to be done."

More research will be carried out over the next six months and another report will be presented at Uefa's next Congress in Stockholm in April next year.

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