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Football matches test security muscle

Geneva police erect barriers to channel supporters near the stadium

(Keystone)

As the Swiss national football team prepares to meet Turkey for the first leg of the crucial World Cup playoffs, the police are taking security seriously.

Enhanced security measures are in place at the Stade de Suisse in Bern and extra police have been drafted in to cover both that match and the England-Argentina friendly in Geneva on Saturday.

The stakes are high for Switzerland and Turkey, who both desperately want to secure a place in the World Cup championship in Germany next year. The playoff match has been the focus of high tension and emotion in the national press of both countries.

There has been criticism about the handling of ticket distribution and some Turkish fans feel disgruntled at ticketing restrictions in the 32,000-seater stadium.

The Turkish sector has an allocation of 2,900 seats, according to the Stade de Suisse. Some 100,000 people of Turkish origin live in Switzerland. All fans purchasing tickets were required to provide proof of identity.

Extra security

A spokeswoman for the Stade de Suisse said the stadium had been closed to anyone without accreditation this week, as part of pre-match security.

"We have extra people working on security for this match and will have careful checks at the entrances. The stewards in the guest section are able to speak Turkish," she said.

Franz Märki of the Bern city police said he was confident that the police would be up to the task of maintaining order. However, he said that the game was exceptional because of the pressure of World Cup qualification.

"The Turkish fans are very enthusiastic about sport, to the point of being fanatical, which brings a certain danger with it," he said.

Märki said police were also prepared to deal with hooliganism. "It is known that Turkey has some fans who are prepared to be violent, and of course there is a violent scene in Switzerland."

Friendly game

On Saturday afternoon, the friendly match in Geneva between England and Argentina is expected to attract 8,000 English fans and a smaller number of Argentines.

Security measures put in place for the Geneva game comply with Uefa directives. As in Bern, the police will have responsibility for the city and the environs of the stadium while private security officers will be on duty inside the stadium.

Meanwhile in Britain, police have begun checking for football hooligans planning to travel to Geneva.

Operation Detergent, which started on Thursday, is targeting known or potential troublemakers planning to fly from Manchester Airport.

Switzerland failed to qualify from their group for the World Cup finals when they came away with just a goalless draw against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin last month. Now all hopes are riding on the two Turkey matches.

Security management at both internationals this weekend will provide good practice for the European Championships in 2008, to be hosted by Switzerland and Austria.

Switzerland expects a massive influx of football fans for the event. Last year's European championships in Portugal attracted more than a million spectators, with around 38,000 attending each game.

swissinfo, Clare O'Dea

Key facts

The European playoffs for the finals of the World Cup in Germany next year include six teams: Spain, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Switzerland, Norway and Slovakia.
Switzerland and Turkey were drawn together. Only one of them will go through to the finals in Germany.
Matches (home and away) take place on Saturday, November 12 in Bern and Wednesday, November 16 in Istanbul.

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In brief

Switzerland face Turkey at 8.45 pm on Saturday at the Stade de Suisse in Bern in the first of two World Cup final playoff matches.

On the same day, an international friendly between England and Argentina takes place in Geneva. Some 8,000 English fans are expected for the game.

Security at both events will be tight, providing an opportunity for Swiss police and football organisers to test their security skills ahead of the 2008 European Championships, being hosted by Switzerland and Austria.

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