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UEFA allows matches in Israel
Decision allows representatives of Maccabi Haifa, Betar Jerusalem, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda to breath a collective sigh of relief.
UEFA, European soccer's governing body, informed the Israel Football Association Thursday that it stands by its decision from April 2004 to allow Israeli clubs to host games in the Tel Aviv area. The decision allowed representatives of Maccabi Haifa, Betar Jerusalem, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda to breath a collective sigh of relief, since many UEFA decisions in the past had gone against Israeli teams. A fax from UEFA, signed by director of professional football Giorgio Marchetti, outlined the decision, which calls for written guarantees from the IFA and the Israeli government for the safety of any teams that will play here. In a statement, UEFA explained, "Due to the increasing nature of the conflict involving Israel and Lebanon, UEFA has also asked the Israel FA to submit to UEFA a back-up plan in case a further deterioration of the security situation requires that European matches are played outside the country and to submit the written guarantees of any potential host association and the public authorities involved as soon as possible." After learning of the decision, IFA chairman Itche Menahem said in a statement appearing on the IFA Web site, "I am pleased with Mr. Giorgio Marchetti's announcement and the IFA will do all in its power to ensure that the games remain in Israel." Representatives from the four teams competing in Europe this season are in Nyon, Switzerland, for Friday's European competition draw. Maccabi Haifa, Israel's lone representative in the Champions League, is not seeded in the third and final qualifying round of the competition, which will be played on August 8/9 and 22/23. The winning side of each of the 16 ties will advance to the group stage of the premier club competition. Among the teams Haifa could face are English giants Arsenal and Liverpool, Valencia of Spain and Ajax Amsterdam. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda will be drawn in the Southern-Mediterranean division for the third round of UEFA Cup qualifying play, which takes place on August 10 and 24.
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