Reds boss Rafa Benítez insists that it is unacceptable for Liverpool to be forced to play football in war-torn Israel. Liverpool were drawn against Israel’s Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League third qualifying round, but UEFA have not yet made a decision on whether to switch the away leg. Maccabi Haifa say they want to play the game at their usual venue for European games, 90 km away in Tel Aviv. Understandably, Liverpool are worried about the safety and security of players and supporters.
Speaking to the official Liverpool FC website, Rafa said that things weren’t as bad in Israel when he was in charge at Valencia and a tie against the same opposition was moved: “It’s a crazy situation and totally unacceptable to even think about us going over there at this time. A few years back when I was with Valencia we were drawn to play Maccabi Haifa in a UEFA Cup tie and the match was switched to Cyprus. The situation then was nowhere near as bad as it is now. Valencia also had a European game in the Ukraine on the day the twin towers were attacked in America and I can remember the confusion that caused with the players on their mobile phones constantly to their families who were wondering when we’d be getting back. It’s impossible to prepare for a game in these circumstances.”
For Rafa, there’s no question about it – the idea of playing the tie in Israel shouldn’t even be under consideration: “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. The situation is very clear in my mind. I feel sad for the people over there at the moment because it’s a terrible time for them, but we have to put the security and safety of everyone involved before anything else and that means we cannot travel there. It would be impossible to concentrate on the game.”
UEFA seemed in no rush earlier to deal with the issue, but Rafa says it’s best for all that they don’t delay any longer: “UEFA need to make a decision quickly because there will be lots of our supporters wanting to know what is happening.”
Maccabi Haifa’s president, Jacob Shachar, said that playing the game in Tel Aviv would be acceptable, saying it was quiet out there: “Our European games are usually played in Tel Aviv so let’s hope that things will be quiet in this area and we will be able to host Liverpool there. It’s an unpleasant situation in Israel, but it’s quiet in Tel Aviv. We would like to host the match in our city, Haifa, but that is impossible, so we would hope to host the game in the centre of the country in Tel Aviv.”
He continued: “I can understand if Liverpool would have concerns, but it is something UEFA will think about – and Liverpool do have many supporters in Israel and of course Ronny Rosenthal played for our club.”
UEFA spokesman Rob Faulkner said that for now there would be no decision from UEFA and so as things stand, the game will be played in Tel Aviv: “We can’t answer where the game will be played at this moment. We have asked the Israel FA to provide us with assurances and we have to keep monitoring the situation. At the moment, as it stands, any of the matches that take place in Israel are played in the Tel Aviv area but we are waiting for more information from the Israel FA before we can make a further decision.”