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Swiss prepare for football showdown

A Turkish player hands Kuhn a bunch of flowers to apologise for the hostile reception

(Keystone)

Switzerland will be heading into the lion's den when they face Turkey on Wednesday in a fight for the right to compete in the 2006 World Cup.

After beating their Turkish rivals 2-0 in the first leg of the playoffs at home on Saturday, the Swiss knew they were unlikely to receive a warm welcome when they arrived in Istanbul for the return match.

As Swiss coach Köbi Kuhn and his players touched down in Turkey's largest city, airport staff held up a Turkish flag and a placard saying "Welcome to Hell 5-0".

The team then spent over two hours at the airport because of delays at passport control and baggage reclaim, while police used narcotics sniffer dogs to inspect their luggage.

In extraordinary scenes broadcast on Turkish television, fans later chanted abuse at the Swiss players as they were passing through the arrivals hall.

Fifa, football's world governing body, said it had taken note of what happened but its director of stadiums and security, Walter Gagg, said he was confident Wednesday's match would pass off without incident.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has written to her Turkish counterpart expressing her shock and concern about the treatment of the Swiss team on their arrival in Istanbul.

"This sort of behaviour is unacceptable," said Calmy-Rey.

Blame game

The Turkish Football Federation has expressed regret over the incidents and even dispatched a bunch of flowers to Kuhn by way of an apology.

But it had earlier laid the blame for the hostile reception firmly with the Swiss fans and authorities.

Officials complained that Swiss supporters whistled and jeered during the Turkish national anthem before Saturday's match and that security officials at the Stade de Suisse in Bern shouted at Turkey's players as they were making their way to the dressing room.

At a news conference in Istanbul on Tuesday, Turkish coach Fatih Terim did little to calm tensions on the eve of the game when he alleged that a Swiss player had "sworn" at him and "shown him the finger" during the first-leg playoff.

The Swiss Football Association (SFA) says the war of words is over and players have been given assurances that adequate security arrangements are in place for the match in Istanbul's Sukru Saracoglu stadium.

The Swiss delegation is being accompanied at all times by Turkish police as well as four hooligan experts who have travelled to Istanbul with the team.

"We are working on the assumption that security will be maintained inside the stadium," SFA spokesman Pierre Benoit told Swiss television.

"Of course this can never be guaranteed [because] it's going to be pandemonium. But if the players remain calm and think only about the task in hand, I don't think anything will go wrong."

Plea for calm

Turkey's sports minister, Mehmet Ali Sahin, issued a plea for calm to his country's football fans ahead of the game and called on them to respect the "spirit of fair play".

Around 3,600 police are being deployed to maintain order and security before, during and after the match.

"Some 2,000 officers will be in position around the stadium and 1,600 will be inside," said Istanbul police chief Celallettin Cerrah.

The Swiss authorities say they have full confidence in the Turkish authorities and have not issued any travel warnings to fans planning to attend the match.

"We have no reason to doubt that the authorities [in Istanbul] will be able to guarantee security," foreign-ministry spokesman Jean-Philippe Jeannerat told swissinfo.

"We are following the situation on the ground... but as is usual with events of this kind it is the authorities [in the host country] who are responsible for security arrangements.

"We are not giving any special advice to Swiss football fans [travelling to Turkey], but of course they must respect the laws and rules of the country they are visiting."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Wednesday's game in Istanbul is the second of two playoff matches between Turkey and Switzerland.
Both teams are competing for one of the last places in the 2006 World Cup.
Switzerland won the first leg 2-0 at home on Saturday. Turkey will have to win 3-0 in Istanbul to go through.
A 2-0 win would force the game into extra time. If there is still no clear result, the match will be decided in a penalty shoot-out.

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