Soccer-Russia, Georgia agree to play each other


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By Brian Homewood

NYON, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Neighbours Russia and Georgia have agreed to play each other if they are drawn together next month in the qualifying competition for the 2016 European Championship, UEFA said on Friday.

"We have received letters from the Russian federation and Georgian federation," UEFA president Michel Platini told reporters. "There had been certain doubts cast but both of those countries are happy to play each other."

The two neighbours were kept apart when European soccer's governing body made the draw for the Euro 2012 qualifying competition in February 2010.

Georgia has had no diplomatic relations with Russia since the two former Soviet republics fought a brief war in August 2008 and is not sending a government delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month.

However, it will allow its sportsmen compete as a goodwill gesture.

On Tuesday, Georgia condemned Russia for expanding its border deeper into Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia that Moscow has recognised as an independent country since 2008 and which is next to Sochi.

Georgian diplomats said that Russia shifted its border with Georgia 11 kilometres (seven miles) deeper into Abkhazia, calling it an "illegal action" that violates Georgia's sovereignty.

UEFA said that Azerbaijan and Armenia would again be kept apart when the draw is made in Nice on Feb. 23.

The former Soviet republics were drawn in the same qualifying group for the Euro 2008 finals but refused to play against each other.

UEFA will also ensure that its newest member Gibraltar is not drawn with Spain.

The British Overseas Territory will be taking part in the competition for the first time after being accepted as a member of UEFA last year.

(Editing by Ed Osmond

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