ANKARA: Juniors To Test The Waters Before Crucial Game


Turkish Daily News
Aug 20 2008

Two weeks before an eagerly anticipated football match between Armenia
and Turkey, the junior teams from the two countries with troubled
relations are set to take to the pitch tonight, in what some consider
a test of whether sports and politics can really be separated.

Turkey is set to play in Armenia in a World Cup qualifying round
game Sept. 6, which will be the first time that the two countries’
national football teams play at the highest level. Doubts were
expressed late last year when the two countries were drawn to play
each other, but politicians from both countries and national team
members gave assurances that the game would go ahead. Å~^enes Erzik
was one of the first names to play down the tension. A former chairman
of the Turkish Football Federation, and the vice president of European
football’s governing body, UEFA, Erzik drew attention to the fact that
both countries were already playing football against one another at
youth levels.

Mahmut Ozgener, who was elected as the new chairman of the federation
yesterday succeeding the late Hasan Dogan, agreed with Erzik, recalling
past occasions where no problems were experienced.

"Our U-19 team played a tournament in Armenia in May, and now the
U-21 team is heading there," said Ozgener. "Football is a global game,
you should go anywhere to play. So, we will go to Armenia to play."

The Armenia game on Sept. 6 will be Ozgener’s first important game
as the federation chairman, but he is not making a big deal of it.

"Just because our relations with Armenia are not good, it is not right
to talk about other things before a football game," said Ozgener. "The
tension may be high but at the end we are going there to play ball."

Armenian President Serj Sarkisyan also played his part to reduce
the pressure before the game, as he sent an invitation to Turkish
President Abdullah Gul in mid-July to watch the game together.

The Armenian press hailed the president’s invitation, calling it
an early goal, and saying Armenia took the first step, and now the
decision was up to Turkey. Gul has yet to issue a response, but it is
a near certain that the game will be a stage where Armenian-Turkish
relations will be tested, albeit on a smaller scale.

Meanwhile, the Turkish national team plays its last friendly fixture
before the Armenian game against Chile tonight in Kocaeli.

Coach Fatih Terim said Chile is a serious contender on the South
American stage.

"Chile is playing for the World Cup currently," said Terim. "It is now
ahead of Brazil in the qualifying group, which is something for us."

The game at the Kocaeli Ataturk Stadium kicks off at 9:00 p.m, while
the Armenia-Turkey U21 game starts at 7:00 p.m.


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