Israel loses out on UEFA cup matches

IFA chairman: "We will take strong action...this is totally unacceptable."

uefa 88 (photo credit: )
uefa 88
(photo credit: )
After days of uncertainty and mounting pressure UEFA finally caved in on Monday night and announced that Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda's home matches in Soccer's UEFA Cup second qualifying round will take place away from Israel in a neutral venue. "UEFA has decided that UEFA Cup second qualifying round first-leg matches involving Israeli teams - to take place on or around 10 August - cannot be played in Israel and must be staged in a neutral country", read the UEFA statement. "European football's governing body has made the decision in view of the security situation in the region." Hapoel was due to host Domzale of Slovenia on the 8th of August with Bnei Yehuda hosting Lokomotiv Sofia two days later. The decision comes only four days after UEFA had upheld its decision from April 2004 to allow Israeli clubs to host games in the Tel Aviv area. IFA chairman Itzhak (Iche) Menahem said after the announcement, "We will take strong action and won't give in, this decision is totally unacceptable. Nothing has changed since UEFA's decision from last week." Menahen said he invited UEFA chief executive Lars-Christer Olsson to come to Tel Aviv and see first hand that its safe to play the matches. "UEFA should make the decision from Israel and not from Switzerland", Menahem said. The decision caused angry reactions across Israeli soccer with the harshest coming from Bnei Yehuda chairman Hezi Magen who said, "If the IFA decides to boycott the matches it will have our full backing. If Israeli soccer has an ounce of self respect left it should end the anti-Israel sentiment and take very serious action", Magen told sport website ONE. Hapoel Tel Aviv's only reaction was that it is waiting for clear instructions from the IFA. The new decision only applies for next weeks matches and UEFA has said that it will make a decision on the 7th of August regarding UEFA Cup second qualifying round second-leg matches and UEFA Champions League third qualifying round second-leg matches. The decision means Maccabi Haifa and Betar Jerusalem's matches at the end of August against Liverpool and Dinamo Bucharest respectively may still take place in Israel, but with those teams leading the appeals to move all matches to a neutral venue that seems unlikely. Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez reacted angrily after hearing that his team will need to go to Israel to play Haifa and said, "It's a crazy situation and totally unacceptable to even think about us going over there at this time". Dinamo also confirmed on Monday that they had asked UEFA to move its match against Betar to a neutral venue because of the conflict in the Middle East. "This is not about fear, but about the additional stress that could affect the teams' balance", Dinamo chairman Nicolae Badea said. "I don't think it's normal to play a soccer match under the tension of a conflict." Earlier on in the day, Menahem was still working to guarantee that European and international matches would take place in Israel when he invited the Bulgarian and Slovenian football association chairman's to be guests of honor in the UEFA Cup qualifiers. Menahem invited Slovenian chairman Rudolf Zavrl and Bulgarian chairman Borislav Mihailov to join their teams in Israel next week when Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda were due to host Domzale and Sofia respectively. Nevertheless, Menahem's efforts proved to be in vain just hours later after UEFA forced Israeli sides to play their home matches abroad.