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Friday, November 19, 1999 Published at 16:31 GMT


Sport: Football

Europe shares in play-off fever

Slovenia have a one goal lead thanks to Acimovic's outrageous 50-yard lob

The atmosphere surrounding England and Scotland's Euro 2000 decider may be reaching fever pitch but British football fans do not have the monopoly on play-off frenzy.

In Ukraine, Slovenia and Turkey the play-offs are being called the matches of the century.

Ukraine play fellow European minnows Slovenia, with both bidding to make history by winning their first berth in a major international soccer event.

Slovenia has a 2-1 lead from the first leg, thanks to a sensational 50-yard lob from Mile Acimovic which found the net in the dying minutes of the game.

The tiny Balkan country - population two million - is in a frenzy over the prospects although coach Srecko Katanec has tried to stay calm.

"If we don't make it to the championships, it won't be the end of the world," said Katanec, who takes a healthy squad to Kiev.

Slovenia: In control

"Everything is under control. We're not going out there to re-invent football and the boys know what to expect from the Ukrainians."

Ukraine, who have yet to beat the Slovenes in three matches, face injury and suspension problems. Dmytro Parfenov and Andriy Husin are out after picking up cards on Saturday with injured Arsenal defender Oleh Luzhny doubtful.

Serhiy Skachenko, who sat on the bench in the first leg, called it a "must win" game and Hrihoriy Surkis - deputy chairman of the Ukraine soccer federation - said it's "the main game of this century for us."

Meanwhile Turkish coach Mustafa Denizli is hoping to use the motivation of the nearby Nato summit to inspire his side.

Presidential appeal

"We have to win this game. The whole world, even Bill Clinton is watching us."

Turkish striker Hakan Sukur said "It is the match of the century, we are aware of this. We will do our best to give a present to our nation."

The fervour is likely to lead to a hostile reception for the handful of Ireland fans who have made the trip to the intimidating Ataturk Stadium in Bursa, which is five hours from Istanbul.

The sides drew 1-1 in their first leg but Turkey have the advantage of an away goal.

The mood could not be more different than in Denmark, where calm prevails after a 5-0 first-leg whopping of Israel.

Perhaps the Danes remember their 1992 campaign, when they only qualified after Yugoslavia were ejected from the competition, but went on the win the event.

Wednesday's four qualifiers - decided on aggregate goals with away goals as the tiebreaker - join the 10 teams already advanced plus co-hosts Belgium and the Netherlands.

They are group winners Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, Norway, France, Sweden, Spain, Romania and Yugoslavia, plus Portugal who claimed best runners-up spot.

The 16 teams will be split into four groups which will be drawn in late December.





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