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Sunday, 16 May 2004

781: WALES: Wales make a Titov them

by : Stephen Orford

After much to-ing and fro-ing, wailing and gnashing of teeth the Welsh FA have finally admitted defeat in their bid to have the national team re-instated into Euro 2004 in Portugal, due to start next month.

Their case was finally and absolutely rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne earlier today (May 13) following two previously unsuccessful appeals to UEFA. Those appeals came after it was revealed that Russian player Egor Titov had failed a drugs test, for which he has subsequently received a one-year ban despite protesting his innocence, before playing in the second leg of his country's play-off victory over Wales.

Somehow the Welsh FA came to the conclusion that they were the only team cheated by Titov's drugs tomfoolery, and therefore were entitled to take over the Russian fixtures at Europe's big show. The fact that Titov's actions also threw Russia's other qualification results into question seems to have been lost on the Welsh, and in particular their Secretary General David Collins. Had Wales been granted a place in Portugal at Russia's expense, this may have attracted the gaze of those involved with the Irish FA amongst others, whose national team finished third in the qualification group from which Russia advanced to the Welsh play-off.

Unpeturbed, Collins went on to explain that although they managed to convince CAS that they held jurisdiction over the affair and therefore had the power to remove the Russians, it could not be proved that the team or the Russian football authorities were implicated in Titov's admittedly dodgy behaviour. This of course, is one hundred percent true. The whole affair smacks of desperation on the part of the Welsh, who have not taken part in the finals of a major international tournament since the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. If you had to wait 46 years for something you craved, chances are you would use under-hand and desperate measures to obtain it. However, Collins was adamant that Titov's breach of the rules did have a significant effect on his and therefore his team's performance in that all-important qualifier;

"The drug had a huge effect with regard to performance and relieving the tiredness that all players involved in the play-offs felt. It's disappointing to see that drugs cheating has prevailed." said Collins.

I would agree with his sentiments, but I would also argue that while it is disappointing to see drug cheats prosper, it is also quite refreshing to see straw-clutchers fail. Wales' miserable surrender in the second leg of their play-off against Russia, in which Titov played for almost an hour, showed that they probably would have had little impact on the tournament.

Rubbing salt into the wounds even further was Russian Football Union executive director Alexander Tukmanov;

"Uefa's message was clear, you earned your right to play at the finals on the field of play, not in the courtroom. But apparently Wales thought differently, they just wouldn't stop. I think they just wasted their time and money with all their appeals." said the man who regularly wastes his federation's time and money by going to major tournaments only to come home after another disappointing performance.

All of which leaves Wales free to concentrate on their forthcoming World Cup qualifying campaign. A group that includes England and Northern Ireland should be a tantalising enough prospect for the Welsh authorities, management staff, players and fans alike to get over this disappointment quickly. The group also contains Austria, Azerbaijan and Poland but Wales will be expecting to fight it out at the top with England, with another play-off place a minimum requirement for their progressive outfit.

Let's just hope that they can get there without the need for taking their begging bowl to every court in the land. It seems that only the European Court of Human Rights have escaped a visit from the Welsh FA in recent times, and it is surely now time to concentrate on the football. I sincerely hope they do qualify for the World Cup finals in Germany in 2006, if only to finally see how stars like Ryan Giggs would perform on a major international stage.

Not at the expense of England though, of course. Wales to qualify for World Cup 2006 after a play-off against Russia? Cue the Russian appeals.

Stephen Orford

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