Bursa is to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying second-leg match between Turkey and Armenia tonight, a match which is likely to be a turning point for bilateral relations between the two countries but one holding little prospect of excitement in terms of soccer as both teams have already lost their chances to qualify for the World Cup tournament.

The match, which will start at 9 p.m., will be attended by Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan, who previously said he would not attend the Turkey-Armenia 2010 World Cup qualifying match in Turkey if the border between Armenia and Turkey remained closed.

The Armenian president, who was invited to the match by Turkish President Abdullah Gül, announced on Monday that he will come to the match in accordance with an agreement signed between Turkey and Armenia on Saturday to establish diplomatic relations. President Gül, who proposed to Sarksyan that they meet in İstanbul at a luncheon before the match, was turned down by the Armenian president. Sarksyan will go directly to Bursa, and Gül will welcome him there.

The game has turned into a critical one in terms of Turkish-Armenian relations. The two teams will play against each other for the second time in history tonight after the first match, when Turkey defeated Armenia 2-0 in the first leg of the World Cup qualifiers played in Armenia on Sept. 6, 2008. Intensifying talks between the two countries, which ended in a deal on Saturday, started with Gül's trip to Yerevan to attend the match which kicked off the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia.

The Bursa Governor's Office and Police Department have implemented heightened security measures in the city to prevent incidents that could possibly erupt during the match. Although it was previously announced that displaying anything other than national flags or banners won't be allowed in the stadium, the Bursa Governor's Office yesterday lifted a ban on bringing Azerbaijani flags to the stadium. Any incidents of hooliganism will not be tolerated, and offenders will be removed from the stadium. Nearly 3,000 police officers will be on duty in the stadium.

The Turkish and Armenian national teams have also arrived in the city. The Armenian team held its first training session on Monday at Bursaspor's facilities. The Turkish team seems to have been demoralized by a 2-0 loss to Belgium on Saturday. The resignation of the team's coach, Fatih Terim, has also reportedly had a negative effect on players.

The team, who went out for dinner on Monday evening in the Mudanya district, received less interest from locals. Most soccer commentators claim that Armenia will win as the match has lost its significance and the Turkish team lacks concentration.

Taking the probable lack of interest in the match into consideration, the Turkish Soccer Federation (TFF), which had planned to sell match tickets for TL 150, has decided to distribute tickets free of charge. The tickets are being distributed under the supervision of the Bursa Governor's Office. Security teams, who predict that provocateurs will be likely to go to the match now that tickets are free, have intensified security measures. They are also trying to identify fans who were previously involved in provocative incidents so they can be banned from tonight's match.

In the meantime, a conference on Turkish and Armenian relations was held yesterday at the Kevansaray Hotel in Bursa, which was attended by several foreign and local members of the press.

Turkey and Armenia have been holding closed-door talks for more than a year on ways to restore diplomatic relations and open their mutual border, closed by Turkey in 1993 in protest over the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territory during a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The dispute is further complicated by Armenian claims of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, a charge Turkey denies.