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(photo credit: AP)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter laid the cornerstone of the future home of Israel's national teams in Shefayim on Tuesday and said that he would be delighted to see Israel at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
"For me it would be a marvelous achievement if your national team will play at the World Cup in South Africa," Blatter said in a speech before the laying of the cornerstone.
"It gives me great pleasure to present compliments to the Israel Football Association for the tremendous work they are doing for the development of football in this country in a difficult situation.
"The great achievements they have realized in the past give me optimism that football can not only bring people together, but can also help overcome hurdles and other obstacles from our day to day life," the FIFA chief added.
The new complex, which will include training grounds and other facilities needed by the national teams in their preparations for internationals, is being funded by FIFA, UEFA, Israel's Sports Gambling Regulatory Council, the Shefayim Hotel and the IFA.
"You have always been a friend to Israel," IFA chairman Avi Luzon said to Blatter. "I'm very excited that you are here and I thank you for all the support.
"I set goals that to many seem like fantasies and I'm happy so many people have helped us with our vision," Luzon added.
"We all had the future of Israeli soccer in mind and we understood that you need to invest if you want to upgrade the level of Israeli soccer. I'm sure the investment in this complex will achieve results and upgrade Israeli soccer."
Blatter, who was in the West Bank town of A-Ram to witness the opening of a Palestinian stadium on Sunday, demonstrated a wide understanding of Israeli soccer.
"I know your Under-21 team missed out on the European Champinships because of bad luck and I wish your senior team all the best against Greece. Although I must remain neutral as I might be the Greeks' guest of honor for the match in Athens," he jokingly said.
Blatter was also asked about Israel's unrealistic FIFA ranking.
Despite failing to qualify for a major tournament in 38 years, the national team is currently ranked number 16 in the world, ahead of such team as Greece, Sweden and Denmark, and just two places below England.
"We used to calculate the ranking with a university formula and help from experts, but then we decided to implement a similar system to the one the ATP uses," Blatter explained.
"I don't know why you're complaining? You're 16th in the world.
"If anybody's got a better system to rank the teams, please tell me about it."
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