European Soccer Notebook: Israeli-Lebanon War's Impact On Soccer
By David Hein
It appears the ongoing war between Lebanon and Israel could slowly make an impact on the world of soccer.
Last week, Europe's soccer ruling body, UEFA, asked the Israeli soccer federation for safety guarantees for matches scheduled to be played in the Tel Aviv area. UEFA also said contingencies need to be made for relocating games to other countries.
It remains questionable if Israel can actually assure that clubs or national teams coming in are safe. And the Israelis had better act soon.
The UEFA request didn't include a deadline, only saying notice must come as soon as possible. But Israel is set to host Andorra on Sept. 6 in a 2008 European Championships qualifier.
The situation becomes even more pressing as the Champions League and UEFA Cup advance further, and Israeli teams begin to compete as well.
The 2005 Champions League winner Liverpool, for example, is the favorite against Maccabi Haifa in the third qualification round. But the return leg is scheduled for Aug. 22/23 at the Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv. And Liverpool management is hesitant of playing in the country.
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said on the team's website: "It's a crazy situation and totally unacceptable to even think about us going over there at this time. There is no way we should be going to Israel to play a game of football at this time. It's crazy to even consider it. UEFA cannot put anyone at risk."
He continued: "We have to put the security and safety of everyone involved before anything else, and that means we cannot travel there."
Liverpool said it's even considering an official protest to UEFA.
UEFA spokesman Rob Faulkner responded: "We do have a little bit of time. The key to this is the safety and security of players, fans and officials. So we wouldn't make that decision without having those 100 percent assurances. And that is information we are chasing at the moment."
UEFA lifted a ban on home matches in Israel in 2004 with the condition that all games are played in the Tel Aviv area.
Maccabi Haifa was forced to play its 2002 Champions League home games in Nicosia, Cyprus. That doesn't appear to be a realistic option since there are so many people arriving there after evacuating Lebanon.
Maccabi president Jacob Shachar said: "Tel Aviv is quiet -- let's hope things will stay quiet and we will be able to host Liverpool. It's an unpleasant situation, although we understand Liverpool's concerns."
Israeli clubs Betar Jerusalem, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv, meanwhile, all play in second qualification round of the UEFA Cup, with both Tel Aviv clubs having first legs at home.
Much less life-threatening but just as crazy is the situation in Italy, in particular, and at Juventus Turin, in specific.
The almost daily rumors regarding the penalized club have Patrick Vieira and either David Trezequet or Zlatan Ibrahimovic transferring from Juventus to Inter Milan for 25 million euros (44.7 million dollars). Trezequet is reportedly on his way to AC Milan as long as the club secures its Champions League spot, as expected.
Juventus coach Didier Deschamps is slowly getting disgusted with the mass exodus of the team, which has been docked 17 points for this season in the Serie B second division.
"We have to stop the bleeding. Nobody else can leave the team," the Frenchman cried out -- hopelessly.
Still, the club now has brought in 100 million euros (127.5 million dollars) through sales of its players. And now management is slowly forming a team, which should get good odds on winning the league, even despite the docked points.
As expected, Manchester United finally went out and spent some money. After shipping Ruud van Nistelrooy to Real Madrid, the club brought in English national team midfielder Michael Carrick for 18.6 million pounds (34.7 million dollars). Manchester is reportedly also close to getting Spanish midfielder Marcos Senna from Villarreal.
This week we see the fixtures set for the third round of qualifying for the Champions League as the second round return legs take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Have fun, and let the Israeli-Lebanon conflict end soon -- not just for soccer fans