England calls off Euro 2004 boycott

Football Association chief Mark Palios has announced that the England players had called off the threatened boycott of their Euro 2004 qualifier in Turkey.

updated: February 25, 2007 09:48 IST
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After a day of tense negotiations, the Football Association Chief Executive Mark Palios announced that the England players had called off their threatened boycott of their crunch Euro 2004 qualifier in Turkey. The 24-strong squad had suggested that they would call a strike after defender Rio Ferdinand was left out after missing a scheduled drug test. England would have been disqualified from the tournament if they had refused to play. "I'm very pleased to tell you that the full England squad will be travelling to Turkey tomorrow. We have held several meetings and we've discussed all of the issues surrounding Rio being left out of this England squad. I fully appreciate and understand and respect the support the players have given to Rio. Teams do stick together," said Palios. However, Palios' announcement came only after Rio Ferdinand himself reportedly intervened, imploring the players to back down from their stance and agree to go to Istanbul. The England squad released a statement accusing the FA of letting down the entire squad and claiming that "they had failed us very badly" and that the idea of a boycott had never been considered. Back to play All of which leaves their coach Sven Goran Eriksson with a daunting task to focus minds on the game ahead, from which England need a point to qualify automatically for next year's tournament: "It has been a different build up to this game, Anyhow, I am very happy to see that everything has been sorted out before the Turkey game and that we know that from tonight, we can focus two hundred per cent on football. The players' loyalty towards Rio shows, in my opinion, that they have created a very strong, very unique group. And I am sure that we will see that as well on Saturday in Turkey," said Eriksson. The episode comes at a time when English football's reputation is suffering a number of damaging setbacks. Police are investigating allegations by a 17-year-old girl that she was raped by a group of Premier League players in a London hotel two weeks ago. At least one Leeds United player was then arrested on Tuesday in connection with an alleged sexual assault a day earlier. England are scheduled to fly out to Istanbul on Thursday, although even if they win, the repercussions of this furore are likely to be felt long after the game itself has finished. (AP)