LONDON (Reuters) - Two Euro 2008 Group A matches between Armenia and Azerbaijan have been cancelled, with both countries losing the six qualifying points available, European soccer’s governing body UEFA said on Saturday.
The neighbouring countries have been involved in a long-running dispute over land. Armenia wanted the games played on a normal home and away basis but Azerbaijan refused to host the Armenians and proposed a neutral ground for both matches.
“As no suitable compromise could be found between the two associations it was decided to cancel the two matches, namely Azerbaijan-Armenia scheduled for September 8 and Armenia-Azerbaijan scheduled for September 12,” UEFA said in a statement following a meeting of its executive committee in the Netherlands.
“It was decided to award both associations zero points for the matches.”
Ukraine, Switzerland, Austria and Spain had been mentioned as possible neutral venues for the games but this was not agreeable to either side.
Azerbaijan are bottom of the group with five points from eight matches, while Armenia have seven points from seven outings. Poland lead the group with 19 points from nine games.
Portugal, Serbia, Finland, Belgium and Kazakhstan make up the rest of the group.
UEFA also decided at its meeting in the Dutch town of Heerenveen to lift the ban on Israeli clubs hosting opponents in European competition outside the Tel Aviv area.
“The executive reviewed the security situation in Israel and agreed to allow matches to be played not only in the Tel Aviv area but also in internationally recognised stadiums outside the region, namely Haifa, Jerusalem and Ashdod,” UEFA said.
UEFA imposed a ban on Israel hosting matches in 2004, following a deterioration of the security situation, which lasted two years before being partially lifted.
The latest relaxation will allow Beitar Jerusalem to play their Champions League qualifying round opponents in Jerusalem while Maccabi Haifa can host Intertoto Cup matches at their home ground in the northern port city.
Israel’s national team will be little affected by the lifting of the ban since they play all official matches at the National Stadium in Tel Aviv with only the occasional friendly taking place away from the centre of the country.
Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem