Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 33 News List

England chills out ahead of its match with Turkey


England players dropped their threat Wednesday to boycott the decisive Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey over the drug-related exclusion of defender Rio Ferdinand.

The team had considered refusing to play Saturday's game in Istanbul after Ferdinand was ruled ineligible by the Football Association for failing to take a routine drug test last month.

But a walkout was averted late Wednesday after talks between FA chief executive Mark Palios and leading players, including captain David Beckham.

"I'm very pleased to tell you that the whole England squad will be traveling to Turkey," Palios said.

Palios said the FA would not reverse its decision on Ferdinand but would review its disciplinary procedures.

Earlier Wednesday, Ferdinand had called the players asking them to withdraw the strike threat. Had England refused to play, the team would have been kicked out of the European Championship.

The players issued a statement criticizing the FA's handling of the case but insisted they always intended to play.

"We apologize to our manager, staff and fans for any concerns that may have arisen over the past few days," the statement said. "In our minds, there has never been any question as to whether we would play in this game. We will continue our preparations for Saturday's game."

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson welcomed the players' decision.

"It has been a different build-up to this game," he said. "We haven't started to talk football yet, which is a little bit strange. I am very happy to see everything has been sorted out before the game. From tomorrow we can focus 200 percent on football."

England leads Turkey by one point in Group 7 and needs only a draw to advance automatically to the 16-team tournament finals in Portugal. A loss would send England into a playoff for a chance to qualify.

Ferdinand, English soccer's most expensive player, has been summoned to an FA hearing next week to explain why he didn't report for the routine test on Sept. 23 at Manchester United's training ground. If found guilty of a doping offense, he could face a ban of up two years.

Ferdinand allegedly "forgot" to appear for the test because he was preoccupied with moving house at the time. Newspapers, however, have published photos of Ferdinand out shopping the same day in Manchester.

According to FA rules, a player who fails to take a requested drug test "will be deemed to have committed a doping offense and may be subject to sanctions for misconduct."

The players accused the FA of punishing Ferdinand without giving him due process.

"It's our opinion that the organization we represent has not only let down one of our teammates, but the whole of the England squad and it's manager," the players said in their statement. "We feel that they have failed us very badly.

"One of our teammates was penalized without being given the rights he is entitled to and without any charges being brought against him by the governing body of the game."

Palios said the FA acted "entirely properly" but would take into account the players' views in reviewing anti-doping procedures.

"We've listened carefully to them -- and they have some very strong views," he said. "I have to work with the procedures currently in place and we've already started a comprehensive review of these."

The strike threat came amid a myriad of problems surrounding English soccer.

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