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By ESPN Staff

Poland fear Euro 2008 axe after FIFA row

WARSAW, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Polish officials fear the national side will be axed from Euro 2008 after FIFA and UEFA warned on Monday they would take action over a row with the government.

The trouble started on Friday when Polish Sports Minister Tomasz Lipiec suspended the board of the national football association and appointed Andrzej Rusko as a commissioner in its place following new arrests in a match-fixing investigation.

FIFA, who resent government involvement in soccer matters, issued a strongly-worded statement on Monday saying action would be taken for what it called Warsaw's 'interference'.

With FIFA having suspended countries over state involvement in the past, the gravity of the situation was not lost on Polish soccer officials whose team are just a point behind Group A leaders Finland in Euro 2008 qualifying.

National team spokesman Kazimierz Oleszek told Reuters: 'For now, this seems to be giving the government and Mr Rusko some time to consider what to do.

'As the national team, we are very concerned that FIFA may suspend us from competing. We are playing very well, we have every chance of qualifying for Euro 2008.

'We very much hope this will not end in the national team being ruled out of the competition.'

In their statement, soccer's world body FIFA and its European counterpart UEFA said they were 'surprised' by Lipiec's move and did not recognise Rusko's appointment.

'In the coming days and weeks, FIFA and UEFA will determine what action to take in response to the Polish government's interference, which contravenes article 17 of the FIFA Statutes,' they said.

Rusko's appointment had also been made 'in spite of several warnings from FIFA and UEFA', the statement said.

They added it 'not only violates the principle of autonomy that applies throughout the sports movement but also undermines the steps taken by Polish government authorities through working group activities in conjunction with FIFA and UEFA to find solutions that are beneficial to...Polish football.'

Sports Minister Lipiec told a news conference he will contact FIFA about the issue and senior FA officials said the world governing body's statement looked like a warning to back down or face the national team being suspended.

About 70 officials have been charged or detained in the match-fixing investigation.

'The next decision will very likely be the suspension of the football association as a member of FIFA,' said former Polish international Roman Kosecki, who has said he will run to head the FA in elections set for the end of March.

'We have very little time to repair the situation - clubs and the national team need to be able to play.'