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Last Updated: Monday, 26 May, 2003, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
Fifa back Azeri return
Ryan Giggs is tackled by an Azerbaijan defender
Wales have beaten Azerbaijan twice in qualifying matches
Wales manager Mark Hughes has praised Uefa for reinstating Azerbaijan into the Euro 2004 qualifiers.

Azerbaijan were suspended from all international football in April because of a long-running dispute between the country's football association and the top clubs.

But European football's governing body decided to lift the ban with immediate effect on Thursday, and the move has now been ratified by Fifa.

Azerbaijan's ban had threatened to harm Wales' hopes of reaching the Euro 2004 final in Portugal.

Mark Hughes' men were facing the prospect of losing the six points and plus-six goal difference gained against the Azeris in two Group Nine victories.

Serbia & Montenegro would have benefited from Azerbaijan's ban since they could only manage a 2-2 home draw against the group's weakest side in February.

It would have been really unfair to have had points taken away or teams given walk-overs
Wales manager Mark Hughes
But Wales' five point lead at the top of Group Nine is now safe and Hughes admitted the news had come as a great relief.

"I believe that Uefa has come to the right decision," said Hughes.

"It has been a very worrying month for us, mainly because we just couldn't find out what was going on.

"Fifa introduced the ban and Uefa followed them and we just couldn't get any real information about what was going on.

"That has been the unsettling thing, just waiting and hoping.

"It would have been wrong to start changing results of matches and upsetting the way the group had gone, and if we had lost six points it would have been a real benefit for Serbia & Montenegro."

Hughes added: "It would have been really unfair to have had points taken away or teams given walk-overs.

GROUP NINE FIXTURES
7 June: Finland v Serbia & M
11 June: Finland v Italy
Serbia & M v Azerbaijan
20 Aug: Serbia & M v Wales
6 Sept: Azerbaijan v Finland
Italy v Wales
10 Sept: Wales v Finland
Serbia & M v Italy
11 Oct: Italy v Azerbaijan
Wales v Serbia & M
"Now the games can continue as scheduled and we will retain our lead in the group and that gives us a great chance of qualifying."

Uefa's executive committee said the ban had been lifted after the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) had met the conditions set out when the suspension was imposed.

A joint Fifa-Uefa delegation which visited the country last week said they had been impressed with the AFFA's efforts to resolve their problems.

The first fixtures in the national league were played last week after a year-long gap.

Uefa confirmed that Azerbaijan's Group Nine match against Serbia & Montenegro will be played as originally scheduled on 11 June.

World football's governing body, Fifa, formally lifted AFFA's suspension a day after Uefa announced it had let the national side back into the Euro qualifiers.

Wales' next match is a friendly against the USA in California on Tuesday.






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