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By ESPN Staff

Boro boosted by KNVB ruling over Alves

Middlesbrough tonight edged a step closer to landing Brazil striker Afonso Alves when the Dutch FA ruled that Heerenveen are not obliged to sell him to AZ Alkmaar.

The KNVB committee today ruled that the first-option arrangement AZ thought was in place is invalid, and they will make a decision tomorrow on the pre-contract agreement the club believed they had secured with Alves.

Should they reach a similar decision, Heerenveen would be free to open negotiations with Boro, who have been on the 26-year-old Brazilian's trail for months.

AZ filed an emergency arbitration with the KNVB earlier this month, and with the player insisting he had no intention of heading to the Alkmaarder Hout, both Dutch clubs and Boro were left awaiting a decision.

The Teessiders now appear to be a step closer to being able to formalise their interest.

Media reports in Holland had claimed that Alves, who has already visited the Riverside Stadium, would command a fee of around £14.9million, although Boro are understood to value him at in the region of two-thirds of that figure.

Manager Gareth Southgate has insisted all along that the South American was one of a series of targets they were considering during a traditionally difficult month on the transfer market, and the club's caution was perhaps well-founded in view of the added difficulties surrounding the Heerenveen frontman's case.

A positive move for Alves will lead to fresh speculation that Stewart Downing's days on Teesside could be numbered with Tottenham's pursuit ongoing.

Southgate does not have to sell to fund his latest round of spending, but should he add a top-class striker to his squad, he would have more room for manoeuvre should Spurs make him an offer his club cannot refuse.

In addition, Newcastle are understood to be ready to to launch a bid to take Jonathan Woodgate back to St James' Park.

The manager has repeatedly insisted he is not in the business of allowing his biggest names to leave the club, but both he and chairman Steve Gibson are realistic enough to know that every player has his price and that there is a point at which an offer becomes too good not to consider.

Whether or not either Spurs or Newcastle are prepared to go as far as that point in their respective pursuits remains to be seen, although the Magpies are understood to be considering adding striker Shola Ameobi, a player whose situation Southgate has monitored, to any financial package.

With David Wheater having emerged from the club's academy to prove himself a commanding Barclays Premier League player and £6million Germany international Robert Huth fully fit, Boro have strength in depth in central defence.

Woodgate, 28, cost the club £7million when he completed a permanent move from Real Madrid after a hugely successful campaign on loan last season.

Meanwhile, Southgate will turn his attention to Saturday's FA Cup fourth round trip to Mansfield, a game which is likely to come too soon for Egyptian striker Mido.

The 24-year-old played 45 minutes of last night's 5-0 reserve team home defeat by Newcastle as he continued his recovery from a stress fracture of the pubic bone.

He has not played a league game since the 2-0 defeat by Chelsea on October 20, although he will not be rushed back after a series of aborted returns.

Southgate told the Evening Gazette: 'It was the next step up from training for Mido and it was good to see him back on the pitch again.

'The plan was always to give him just the 45 minutes. We have to bring him back at the right speed.'