The ripple effects of Monday's bloody raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla could impact Israel's Under-21 team's quest to compete in next year's European Championships.
The Swedish Football Association announced Tuesday that it will appeal to European soccer's governing body, UEFA, in a bid to cancel the scheduled appearance of Sweden's U-21 team for a game in Israel this week. Israel and Sweden are due to meet in a critical match on Friday in the qualifying round for the 2011 European Championships.
The Swedish team, which is currently preparing for the match by training in Cyprus, expressed reservations about playing in Israel after hearing news of the raid. The SFA cited "the events and the harsh responses to those events in Sweden and around the world," a reference to Monday morning's Israeli commando operation that left nine dead aboard a ship said to be carrying aid to the Gaza Strip.
"Like all human beings, we deplore violence and are shocked at what we saw," said SFA President Lars-Ake Lagrell.
"It's not pleasant to play in Israel at this juncture," Lagrell said. "But we will not boycott the game [if UEFA instructs us to play] because this is liable to result in harsh sanctions in the long term. Despite this, we would be happy not to play in Israel."
According to Swedish press reports, the Gaza aid flotilla included 11 citizens of the country.
On Monday, the Turkish U-19 soccer team canceled its scheduled game against Israel after it received explicit instructions from the Turkish government to return to the country.
"The Israel Football Association is saddened by the mixture of politics and sports," the IFA said in a statement in response to Turkey's cancellation. "It was possible, and necessary, to hold the game as scheduled."
As for the possibility that the Swedish U-21 team will not play its scheduled match in Israel, an IFA official told the Israeli news portal Walla!: "As of now we have not received any request from the SFA or from UEFA. From our standpoint, everything will take place as scheduled. We have no doubt that Sweden will come to Israel and the game will be played."
Natkho doubtful for match
Bibras Natkho, the midfielder who plays for Russian club Rubin Kazan, is unlikely to play in this Friday's U-21 Euro 2011 qualifier against Sweden.
Natkho is nursing a pulled thigh muscle suffered during the senior national team's friendly match against Chile on Monday. The former Hapoel Tel Aviv star arrived in Israel yesterday and was excused from the U-21 team so that he may rest.
His status for the game will be definitively determined just prior to Friday. U-21 coach Motti Ivanir is expected to have Ben Sahar and Ariel Harush ready to play after the two returned from last week's friendly against Uruguay.
If the game against Sweden goes ahead as planned, it will be played on Friday at 5 P.M. at the Nes Tziona Stadium. The game will also be broadcast live on Channel 1.
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