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Europa League round of 16 draw

Europa League

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By ESPN Staff

Northern Ireland squad hit by passport row

Northern Ireland were today completing preparations for their friendly clash with Romania in America against the backdrop of a brewing passport row.

Lawrie Sanchez and his squad may have nothing on their minds but the 90 minutes at Chicago's famous Soldier Field Stadium, but officials have been left mulling over the implications of a FIFA ruling which means players must hold a British passport to represent the country.

The governing body delivered its verdict amid confusion over the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which gives Northern Irish citizens the right to dual nationality.

However, FIFA insist that does not apply to matters on the pitch, and that means Northern Ireland's players, who are currently requested by the Irish Football Association to carry a British passport when on international duty, must do so.

'We are taking FIFA on its word and we are accepting their decision,' said an IFA spokesman.

'I think FIFA made it clear that their decision is finalised and they have gone to an awful lot of work to investigate the issue.'

The ruling is hugely controversial and the whole issue, which has been ongoing for some time, has caused a political storm, with former international Neil Lennon, who retired after receiving loyalist death threats, admitting he would not have played for his country under those conditions.

'[It] would have ruled me out for a start,' the Celtic midfielder said last week. 'The fact is that if you're from Northern Ireland, you're Irish. It's a ridiculous move.'

Having already found themselves thrust into a sectarian row after being confronted by around 80 protestors as they arrived for an official function at Chicago's Gaelic Park earlier this week, Sanchez and his players could have done without further controversy.

The lost 1-0 to Uruguay at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey at the weekend and will hope for better in the early hours of tomorrow morning when they come up against the Romanians, who lost 2-0 to the South Americans on Wednesday.

Sanchez flew out to the United States without 11 regulars, but has taken the opportunity to blood some of his up and coming players, with five men making their debuts against Uruguay.

Burnley midfielder Steve Jones admits the chance to play against both sides in imposing surroundings is one he would not have missed, and praised the youngsters for the way they handled themselves in New Jersey.

'Never would I have thought that I would get a chance to play against these two teams,' the 29-year-old told the IFA official website.

'I really enjoyed the match against Uruguay at the Giants Stadium and I'm looking forward to Friday's game against Romania at the Soldier Field Stadium.

'I would have to say that all the young lads have done very well. It's great for them to get a senior cap and hopefully the young keeper, Alan Blayney, can get a cap as well.'

Sanchez has hinted that Doncaster's Blayney may be involved at some point, while Aston Villa midfielder Steven Davis will captain the side once again.<