Football

England boycott splits opinion

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Spain captain Iker Casillas has branded suggestions England should not play a friendly at Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium "completely stupid".

The Football Association have advised their Spanish counterparts that an international, pencilled in for next February, should not be staged at the 90,000-capacity home of Real Madrid after England players were subjected to racist abuse there in 2005.

But Casillas, who is also captain of Real, insists the FA's reluctance to play in the city is laughable, claiming: "That really does seem like a joke and completely stupid to me."

He told AS: "At every stadium there are heartless people who shout against everything and everyone, but you can't generalise, and even less with the crowd at the Bernabeu who have always shown their respect and their love for good football."

England coach Fabio Capello, a former Real boss who asked for next year's friendly to be arranged, distanced himself from the FA's actions on Tuesday.

But the English governing body's fears of playing in Madrid were indirectly validated by UEFA when they demanded Atletico play their next two Champions League games 200 miles away from the capital after violent and racist incidents involving their fans during the recent match against Marseille at the nearby Vicente Calderon.

England's players have backed the FA's stance, especially as Emile Heskey bore the brunt of racist abuse in Croatia last month. However, Capello is unhappy at his name being associated with a Madrid boycott.

After two successful spells at Real, the Italian has made a lot of friends in the city and would welcome the chance of a brief return.

"It's a mistake by the director of communications of the English federation. I don't know how my name has appeared in all this," Capello told Marca.

"Why would I not want to play in the Bernabeu? It's my home. Everybody knows that I love Spain, I have a house in Marbella and I love Madrid, a marvellous city where I have spent two great years. I don't decide where England play, it's a decision of the English federation which they will have to agree with the Spanish."

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2008, All Rights Reserved.

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Emile Heskey

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