Belfast Telegraph

Birmingham riots could ruin England World Cup 2018 bid

England’s dreams of hosting the 2018 World Cup suffered a significant blow last night when rioting marred the Carling Cup clash between Birmingham City and Aston Villa at St Andrew’s.

The violent scenes came less than 24 hours before Fifa executives decide which nation will host the biggest sporting event in the world.

England’s World Cup fate will become clear in Zurich this afternoon — but there are now fears that all the intensive last-minute lobbying has been rendered meaningless by the violence.

Riot police formed a line across the St Andrew’s pitch and pushed home fans back into the stands as their colleagues and stewards were pelted with ripped-up seats from Villa supporters.

England's bid, supported by David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham, has already been overshadowed by a BBC Panorama programme which alleged three of the men who will vote had taken bribes in the past.

City won the derby clash 2-1 but their manager, Alex McLeish, was fuming with the troublemakers who he said were in danger of bringing English football “back to the Dark Ages”.

Dozens of additional police had been hired for the match but they struggled to keep the sheer numbers of rioting fans in check.

It is hardly the image of English football being sold to FIFA in Zurich and it will be fresh in the memory when voting commences.

“I'm disappointed by that side of things,” said McLeish. “Fans shouldn't come on to the pitch at any time. It soured it a bit for us.

“I don't think that will affect the World Cup bid, I'm sure that's already decided, and let's hope England gets it because it deserves it.

“It doesn't look good though, when you see fans running on the pitch like that and carrying on. It takes us back to the Dark Ages.”

Before the trouble erupted, Nikola Zigic put City through to their first Carling Cup semi-final for nine years and earned his side revenge over Villa boss Gerard Houllier. Zigic's deflected shot five minutes from time settled the tie after Gabriel Agbonlahor had cancelled out Sebastian Larsson's early penalty.

Houllier had been Liverpool manager when they defeated Blues in the 2001 final but Villa were unable to deny City their first win over their local rivals for five-and-a-half years.

Birmingham took the lead against the run of play after 10 minutes through a Larsson penalty.

Jerome turned the ball into Lee Bowyer and he was brought down by Villa skipper Richard Dunne. Up stepped Larsson to drill a low penalty past Friedel.

After 30 minutes Agbonlahor struck at St Andrew’s for the third successive game to bring his side back on level terms.

Jonathan Hogg threaded the ball into the path of Agbonlahor and his low cross shot flew past Ben Foster into the corner of the net. With five minutes remaining Zigic's deflected shot put Birmingham back in front.

Jerome made a powerful run down the right and his low cross found Zigic whose shot deflected off Luke Young and looped over Friedel and ensure a semi-final date with West Ham.

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