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Euro 2000 Preview Yugoslavia head to Dublin amid growing controversy

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jay Mwamba

Yugoslavia will field a squad comprised wholly of foreign-based players in their crucial European Championship soccer qualifier with Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.

This follows the cancellation last March of the Yugoslav league championship because of the Kosovo crisis. Yugoslav qualification hopes from the tough Group 8, which Ireland (6 points) leads on goal difference, have been further hit by UEFA’s edict that they play their remaining home matches on neutral ground.

But Real Madrid forward Predrag Mijatovic, who scored the goal that sank the Republic in Belgrade last year, said these developments will not deter the Yugoslavs from their Euro 2000 mission.

"Sport has traditionally given our people a source of pride and achievement," Mijatovic said ahead of Saturday’s Lansdowne Road clash. "That’s why it was important that the national team not only carry on playing in the European Championship — as we intend — but do well."

From Dublin, Yugoslavia, who go into Saturday’s qualifier trailing both the Republic and Macedonia on goal differential, fly to neutral Thessaloniki in Greece for a midweek meeting with Malta, in what should have been a home fixture for the Serbs.

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Meanwhile, efforts are being made to force UEFA to call off Saturday’s qualifier. The FAI are unhappy with UEFA’s decision to stage the game at a time when war is raging in the Balkans. Sports Minister Jim McDaid is seeking help from the EU to force the cancellation of the game but is unlikely to succeed.

The FAI will not allow the game to be transmitted to Yugoslav TV and will dispense with the normal protocol in the build-up to the game. The Yugoslav national anthem will not be played; nor will there be an official welcome for the visitors.

Mick McCarthy and his players have already indicated that they don’t want the match to go ahead, which is hardly surprising following their disappointing performance in the Peace international against Northern Ireland last Saturday.

The Republic were beaten by 1-0 on a day when only 12,000 fans, the lowest ever at a soccer international at Lansdowne Road, turned out. The proceeds will go to the Omagh Fund and there was disappointment and embarrassment all around at the response of the Irish soccer public to such a worthy cause.

The small turn-out was blamed on the fact that the Scottish Cup final (Rangers beat Celtic, 1-0) was on TV at the same time.

Meanwhile, Croatia and Macedonia, the Republic’s two other rivals in Group 8, play in the latter’s capital, Skopje, this Saturday, with a tie probably being to Irish coach Mick McCarthy’s liking.

It’s a decisive week for many other nations bidding to reach next summer’s European finals in Belgium and Holland Belgium.

Here are some of the key matches:

Keegan banks on United

New English boss Kevin Keegan has called up five members of the victorious Manchester United team that beat Bayern Munich, 2-1, in Barcelona last week, in his squad to face Group 5 leaders Sweden at Wembley on Saturday.

The players include veteran forward Teddy Sheringham, who scored against the Germans. Midfielders Phil Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and striker Andy Cole are the other Manchester heroes.

Keegan’s Swedish counterpart, Tommy Soderberg, on the other hand, has only one Manchester star, Jesper Blomqvist, in his 21-man contingent, 18 of whom play overseas. Celtic United’s Henrik Larsson is the other Swedish notable.

England, who are second in the group, five points behind the Swedes (12), tackle Bulgaria and the recalled Hristo Stoichkov in Sofia next Wednesday.

Last stand

Scotland, with seven points from four games in Group 9, need at least four points from their jaunts to Faroe Islands and the Czech Republic, on Saturday and Wednesday, respectively, to get back on track for the finals. Coach Craig Brown has the core of his France ’98 side, including striker Kevin Gallacher, available for both games.

The third-placed Scots are 8 points behind the Czech Republic but have a game in hand. The Czechs take on second-placed Estonia this weekend.

Double jeopardy

Group 1 leaders Italy (10) in Bologna on Saturday and Denmark at Ainfield next Wednesday are the teams that Wales faces in the next seven days. A draw and a win could help the Welsh secure a playoff berth as the Group’s runners-up. Italy’s opponents next Wednesday will be Switzerland.

The rest of the qualifying matches are: Group 2 — Albania vs. Norway, Latvia vs. Slovenia, Georgia vs. Greece (Saturday); Albania vs. Slovenia, Greece vs. Latvia (Wednesday). Group 3 — Germany vs. Moldova, Finland vs. Turkey (Saturday); Moldova vs. Finland (Wednesday). Group 4 — Iceland vs. Armenia, Ukraine vs. Andorra, France vs. Russia (Saturday); Russia vs. Iceland, Armenia vs. Ukraine and Andorra vs. France (Wednesday). Group 6– Spain vs. San Marino (Saturday) and Isr’l vs. Austria (Sunday). Group 7: Azerbaijan vs. Liechtenstein, Portugal vs. Slovakia, Romania vs. Hungary (Saturday); Hungary vs. Slovakia, Portugal vs. Liechtenstein, and Romania vs. Azerbaijan (Wednesday).

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