Atletico to play Liverpool at neutral venue

Anti-racism campaigners have praised UEFA for ordering Atletico Madrid to play Liverpool at a neutral venue in the Champions League, describing the decision as "momentous".

UEFA fined the Spanish club €150,000 for racist abuse of Marseille players and handed out a three-match stadium ban after crowd trouble and lack of organisation at the same match.

It means Atletico's next two Champions League home games cannot be played within 300 kilometres of Madrid, and the third-match ban will be invoked if there is a repeat of crowd trouble or racist chanting within the next five years.

The ban against Atletico is UEFA's toughest-ever action for racist behaviour, and Rojiblancos' coach Javier Aguirre has also been banned for his club's home and away fixtures against Liverpool for insulting Marseille player Mathieu Valbuena.

Former Chelsea defender Paul Elliott, ambassador for European campaigners FARE, said: "This is a momentous decision.

"I and other leading players in the game - black and white - fully support the actions that UEFA have taken and urge all governing bodies to work with us to make sure that racism is effectively eradicated.

"UEFA's decision sets out a zero-tolerance policy that underlines respect for the rights of human beings whatever their race, religion or ethnic background."

Liverpool have written to UEFA however to express their strong concerns over the timing of the decision.

"To say the decision is a bit late in the day, is to put it mildly," said chief executive Rick Parry.

"We have 3,000 fans going to the game and we are extremely concerned for our supporters, the vast majority of whom have already made travel arrangements.

"If the match is played at least 300 kilometres from Madrid, it will cause major disruption, inconvenience and large additional expense for our fans.

"UEFA have to take their needs into account when making a final decision on the game."

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres has spoken of his disappointment after hearing his much-anticipated return to former stomping ground the Vicente Calderon could be scuppered.

Torres, who came up through the ranks at Atletico and quickly become a fan favourite before moving to Liverpool in a big-money move a year ago, heard the news while on international duty with Spain in Belgium.

"After so much time waiting, it is the worst and most unexpected news that I could have heard this morning," the 24-year-old Torres said in Marca.

"I'm eager to go back. I don't know if it is definitive, I hope that a solution can be found. It is a shame that these incidents have forced the stadium to be closed, but if this is what happens then we have to accept it."

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