Wembley prices rise for World Cup

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The Independent Online
The Football Association has gambled on Glenn Hoddle's England maintaining the wave of patriotism which filled Wembley during Euro 96.

It was revealed yesterday that despite attracting an average of less than 30,000 to last season's six pre-Euro 96 matches, the governing body has refused to cut ticket prices. Instead, the FA has increased prices for the World Cup qualifiers, taking the cheapest seats to pounds 14 (for a terrible view) and the most expensive to pounds 40 (for a stunning one).

In one concession to complaints, the FA has agreed to introduce a two- tier pricing policy. Prices for the matches against Georgia (30 April 1997) and Moldova (10 September 1997) will be marginally lower than those against Poland (9 October) and Italy (12 February 1997).

This means the bulk of tickets, previously pounds 20-23, will cost pounds 22-24 for the cheaper matches and pounds 26-28 for the others. Prices for friendly matches are yet to be decided.

The decision is a victory for the hardliners on the match and grounds committee. They insisted that last season's gates were poor because the matches were meaningless; they believe the combination of football's new popularity and the lure of the World Cup will ensure Wembley is filled.

They also noted that these prices are not much higher than at Premiership grounds. Since some of them are also the chairmen who set those prices, that is not particularly surprising.

England will be given a helping hand as they attempt to fill Wembley and match expectations. In an effort to recreate Wembley's summer euphoria, the FA is to ask Frank Skinner and David Baddiel either to update "Three Lions" or to write a new theme song. As at Euro 96, leading pop figures will start the singing of the national anthem.

Duncan Ferguson's international exile looks set to end today when Craig Brown, the Scotland manager, names his squad for the start of their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Scotland travel to Vienna for their opening against Austria on 31 August, and Brown looks set to recall the Everton striker, who has not played for Scotland for 20 months. Ferguson won the last of his five caps in a 1-0 defeat in Greece in December 1994 during the qualifying campaign for Euro 96.

Brown has set his squad a target of seven points from a possible nine in their first three games. The visit to Vienna is followed by a double- header in Latvia and Estonia in October.

"That would give us an ideal start and set us up for the first home game against Sweden in November," Brown said. "But it certainly won't be easy. Austria away is one of our toughest fixtures and we deliberately wanted to play them first.

"Austria beat the Czech Republic just before the start of Euro 96 and have made a lot of progress since we beat them in a friendly in Vienna in April 1994. But we have traditionally done well in qualifiers at the start of our season when the players are fresh, and I hope that is the case again.

"When we went to Finland at the start of the Euro 96 qualifying campaign, we got off to a flyer with a 2-0 win and it later proved a very significant result.

"After Austria, we have the first double-header which will provide us with two very important games in five days."

Brown looks unlikely to jettison many of his Euro 96 squad who won plaudits for their displays against the Netherlands, England and Switzerland.

Youngsters Stephen Glass of Aberdeen and Celtic's Jackie McNamara may step up from the Under-21 squad which reached the last four in Europe last season.

McNamara's Celtic team-mate Phil O'Donnell also looked a likely contender until he suffered a muscle tear last week. The Aberdeen captain, Stewart McKimmie, is another player injured, as is Alan McLaren of Rangers. The Under-21 squad to face Austria away on 30 August will also be named at Hampden today.

Hearts aim to add Red Star Belgrade to their list of European conquests at Tynecastle in tonight's Cup-Winners' Cup qualifying round.

In recent years, Bayern Munich, Bologna and Atletico Madrid have lost at Hearts, and Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager, knows that Red Star's scalp would be an impressive addition to that trio.

"They are a quality team and it will be one of the best results in Hearts' history if we can beat them," said Jefferies, whose side drew the first leg 0-0 in Belgrade two weeks ago.

"They are a young side and we are getting them at the right time. Their stadium has a running track around it and the crowd is back from the pitch.

"They will not relish the atmosphere at Tynecastle when the crowd is right on top of them. But we have to be patient and we have to keep our discipline."

Hearts have doubts over their goalkeeper Gilles Rousset, who has a virus, and the midfielder Neil Pointon, who has a groin strain. Both missed training yesterday, but Jefferies is hoping that they will be available.

Colin Cameron, Dave McPherson, Pasquale Bruno and Neil McCann have all been passed fit and are definitely in contention.

Cameron, who impressed in the first leg, stressed the need for a patient approach. "I don't think we need to push everybody forward at the start," he said. "We just have to gradually build it up throughout the game. After all, we don't go out if it's 0-0 after 90 minutes - it just goes to extra time.

"If we get an early goal, it'll maybe settle us, but if we don't, then we want the fans to keep getting behind us."

Hearts are aware of the danger of Yugoslav Perica Ognjenovic, who at 19, is already rated in the pounds 4m class. Red Star have no major injury worries and Vladimir Petrovic, the Red Star coach, said: "We're confident we will go through."