Liverpool's Fernando Torres last night rejected any suggestions that fans from his old club Atletico Madrid were responsible for the violence which has led Uefa to switch the two club's Champions League match in Spain next week to a neutral venue.
Despite Uefa's conclusions that visiting Marseilles fans were "victimised" by police at the club's game against Atletico Madrid and monkey chants aimed at Marseilles players, Torres – who had been anticipating a return next Wednesday to the ground where he was feted as captain – dismissed the allegations.
"The most important thing is to make sure there is no violence, although [Atletico] is not responsible for the violence [against Marseilles]," Torres said at Spain's training camp in Belgium. "You can imagine how I feel. After waiting so long for this game, this is the worst possible news. I really hope it can be sorted out. If the decision from Uefa is unchangeable, then we will have no choice but to accept it."
Liverpool were still hoping last night that Uefa might reconsider its decision to switch next week's match to a neutral venue, a decision which could leave just 72 hours to reorganize the fixture, to the detriment of 3,000 travelling fans. Atletico have been fined £120,000 for racist abuse of Marseilles players in their last group match and handed a three-match stadium ban. But since they have until Friday to lodge an appeal, Uefa's final decision may not be forthcoming until noon on Sunday. The match cannot take place within 300 kilometres of Madrid under the ruling, with Valencia's Mestalla Stadium seemingly the most likely venue.
Anti-racism campaigners, including the Kick It Out campaign, have praised Uefa for the ruling, which comes on the back of England's refusal to countenance playing a February friendly at the Bernabeu, where Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole were racially abused in 2004. The former Chelsea defender Paul Elliott, ambassador for European campaigners Football Against Racism in Europe, described it as "a momentous decision".
The Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry outlined his concerns to Uefa yesterday, having been informed of the stadium ban on Monday night and Liverpool hope that the ban will be deferred. It is Liverpool's view that while racism must be stamped on, the lack of available time to undertake the necessary policing, segregation and safety checks on the alternative ground is a recipe for disaster.
The Uefa communications director William Gaillard said: "What would people have said if Liverpool went there and the players and fans suffered the same treatment? This is to protect Liverpool fans – the police were harsh and violent against peaceful fans during the Marseilles game and do we want the same story as that, or as happened to the Tottenham fans in Seville last year?"