Soccer

Turkey says it is favorite to host Euro 2020 final

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DUBROVNIK, Croatia (AP)

Turkey believes it is ''top of the list'' to host the 2020 European Championship final, after Istanbul lost the 2020 Olympics race.

UEFA President Michel Platini pledged his conditional support in January for Istanbul getting the elite final and semifinals hosting package, Emre Alkin, the Turkish Football Federation general secretary, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

''It is all about the promises and Mr. Platini in a face-to-face conversation promised us - and I underline that, promised us - that if we don't get the Olympic Games we will surely have the final package,'' Alkin said.

Platini's long-standing support for Turkey, since his native France edged it to host Euro 2016, was initially for staging the 24-team tournament alone in 2020.

That project was complicated by Turkey's government committing to bid for the Olympics scheduled just weeks after UEFA's marquee tournament. The IOC chose Tokyo this month.

''As far as I am concerned, yes,'' Platini said in January of backing Istanbul in a future Euro 2020 vote involving his 17-member UEFA executive committee. ''For the other members, I don't know.''

UEFA is expected to announce on Friday which are the formal applicants to host matches at Euro 2020, which will be played in 13 countries. Twelve cities will each stage three group matches and a knockout round match, and the winners will be chosen next September.

''We are on the top of the list, without doubt,'' said Alkin, who expects ''three or four, including Turkey'' of UEFA's 54 member countries to compete for the final package.

''Spain is ready but reluctant to bid. Germany says, `If you are very positive, I won't bid. Not to break your heart,''' the Turkish official said on the sidelines of a four-day summit of UEFA stakeholders.

The Hungarian federation announced at a news conference with Platini last week that it could stage the final in a renovated national stadium in Budapest planned to hold 65,000 fans.

''Hungary likes to have it. Why not? They have the ability and the capacity. But in seven years? It's too much money,'' Alkin said.

Turkey is bidding for the elite matches only with the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, which hosted the Liverpool vs. AC Milan Champions League final in 2005 with 72,000, and should be enlarged to hold 80,000 for UEFA matches.

''After losing the Olympic Games we can only, how can I say, bear to have a final package,'' Alkin said, describing the Euro 2016 loss to France in May 2010 as ''agony for the federation and for the Turkish people as well.''

Acknowledging that Turkey gave up a seemingly certain shot at hosting Euro 2020 alone, Alkin said its people preferred to have a football tournament over the Olympics.

''Ask maybe 10 people on the street, 10 say football,'' he said, adding that Platini and UEFA wanted to develop the potential of the ''sixth largest football economy in Europe.''

Alkin said Turks are ''ardent'' fans of their clubs, shown by attendances for Istanbul clubs Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas.

Still, the federation is analyzing why so few went to Under-20 World Cup matches hosted in seven cities in June and July, which brought criticism from tournament organizer FIFA.

Turkish football has also been hit by a two-year investigation into match-fixing in the national league and cup, which forced UEFA to remove Fenerbahce and Besiktas from this season's Champions League and Europa League, respectively.

Alkin said the case did not affect the federation's relations with UEFA ''because we have done all we have to do'' in respecting the decisions of Turkish courts.

''They know that we are very ardent to fight doping, racism - hopefully we don't have it - illegal betting and match-fixing,'' he said. ''There will be some rumors and there will be some gray areas and we will fight for it. And we will win.''

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