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England arrive in Istanbul

Istanbul: The English football team arrived on Thursday in Istanbul for a potentially explosive Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey amid heavy security.

Dozens of policemen formed human chains around the players as they walked through the airport to their bus, to the pro-Turkey chants of a handful of Turkish supporters. Only a young Turkish girl managed to break through the police cordon in a bid to take a hug from David Beckham, but security forces promptly intervened before she was able to reach her idol.

But in a gesture of goodwill, Beckham asked a police officer to get the teenager back and had a brief chat with her in the bus.

Turkey has mobilised thousands of police for Saturday’s match as both sides fear a repetition of violence that has often marred games between Turkish and English teams.

The English Football Association opted not to take up any tickets for the match and has urged supporters to stay home, but British police have warned that a hard core of hooligans are determined to travel to Istanbul.

Just hours before the English team landed at Ataturk airport, police stopped two Britons from entering the country and sent them back on a flight to London after determining that their names figured on a list of 1,000 troublemakers that English police had handed over to Turkish colleagues.

Owen ruled out

Earlier, Liverpool striker Michael Owen has been ruled out of the tie. Owen has not recovered from a shin injury sustained in last week’s defeat to Arsenal.

FA spokesman Adrian Bevington said: “Michael Owen will not be travelling to Turkey with the team. After receiving treatment from our medical staff — who have been in consultation with the medical team at Liverpool - over the past three days, it was felt that, despite Michael making excellent progress, he would not be fit for Saturday’s game.”

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has called up Darius Vassell as cover for Owen but he has only just resumed playing for Aston Villa after a pelvic surgery. And that might point to Eriksson picking Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey as his strike duo for Istanbul. (AFP)

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