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World Cup 2018

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Switzerland keep their cool as Behrami row with Udinese turns nasty

 

By Steven Beacom

Switzerland have become embroiled in a frosty club v country row involving Udinese midfielder Valon Behrami ahead of tonight's World Cup play-off against Northern Ireland.

It is hardly ideal preparation prior to the first leg at Windsor Park for the Swiss, who are already peeved at not qualifying automatically for Russia despite claiming 27 points out of 30 in their group having lost top spot to Portugal in the final game.

Former West Ham and Watford ace Behrami is in Belfast but is not expected to play tonight. But that has not stopped Udinese demanding the player return to Italy to work on a hamstring problem.

Udinese have even threatened legal action if Behrami stays with the Swiss squad and plays in the tie, with the second leg in Basel on Sunday.

The Italians are furious that they were informed of Behrami's call-up 15 days before the first match rather than 15 days before the Swiss met up, which is the protocol Fifa stipulate national federations must follow.

The Swiss FA, however, stress that they have operated this way for 18 years without any problems from clubs, including Udinese when they have called up their previous players Silvan Widmer and Gokhan Inler within such a time frame.

"Behrami is here now and, as far as we're concerned, he's not going back," an SFV-ASF spokesperson said. "Behrami told us he talked with his club coach and he had agreed he could leave for Switzerland.

"(Switzerland boss Vladimir) Petkovic said on Monday that we would never take any risk. We won't do any foolish things with the player.

"We have the impression that Udinese want to fix on that (15 days) point because they have no rules that they can prevent the player from travelling to Switzerland. The rules are quite clear, we can insist on having the player with us."

The spokesman added: "If we cannot agree with Udinese there will be some higher places for them to refer to.

"There is the Fifa disciplinary commission and if they want to judge the case we're ready to face the music."

Although Behrami may not feature in either fixture, it comes as an unwelcome distraction for Petkovic ahead of this two-legged tie.

The Swiss media conducted a press conference at Windsor Park with national team delegate Claudio Sulser and it lasted longer than a session with Petkovic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Yann Sommer.

Prior to taking on his current position, Sulser was on the Fifa disciplinary committee so would be well placed to comment on the prospect of Udinese winning a legal battle with the SFV-ASF.

"I do not see any basis for the Fifa disciplinary committee to act right now," Sulser said in conclusion.

Belfast Telegraph

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