Austria will play against Israel at Ramat Gan Stadium in next month's decisive World Cup qualifier despite severe reservations about security in the region, Austrian FA president Beppo Mauhart said yesterday.
Austria had asked world soccer's governing body FIFA to move the group seven qualifier from Israel to a neutral venue over concern for their footballers' safety following the U.S. suicide attacks and a year of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Two weeks ago Austria seemed prepared to suffer the consequences of refusing to play the match, notably automatic suspension from the subsequent World Cup qualifiers for Germany 2006.
Despite the fact that FIFA's decision in only expected on Sunday, Mauhart now appears resigned to the fact that the Austrians will have to travel to Tel Aviv for the clash despite his and his players' pleas not to have to travel to what they considered to be a "danger zone."
When announcing his intention not to travel to Israel, Mauhart said he would not risk the safety of his players and coaches, while goalkeeper Franz Wohlfahrt said it was "inconceivable that we would play in Israel on October 7."
But Mauhart has now backed down although FIFA has yet to make a ruling on the issue.
A no-show in Israel and the resulting consequences "would be a very dramatic decision both sports-wise and economically on the future of Austrian football," he told a news conference yesterday.
"I fully comprehend that each player is concerned. But it's also certain that we can't get out of this game," he said.
"I'm not going to exploit the potential pressure of sanctions. No one will be forced to travel to Israel, but I will try to convince the players that there is no justifiable nor responsible alternative for us," he added.
In an effort to reassure the Austrians that their fears were unfounded, IFA chairman Gavri Levy wrote a letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter saying the Austrians would have a police escort from the moment they landed.
Thousands of police and security officers would guarantee that nothing happened to the Austrians inside or outside the National Stadium.
Focus on sport
Spain has already won group seven and qualified for next year's World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea.
Israel needs to beat Austria to take second spot in the group and earn a place in the play-offs against Turkey. Austria will reach the playoffs if they win or draw the match.
Goalkeepers: Franz Wohlfahrt (Austria Vienna), Alexander Manninger (Fiorentina), Roland Goriupp (Kaernten).
Defenders: Martin Hiden (Austria Vienna), Markus Hiden (Rapid Vienna), Walter Kogler (Tirol Innsbruck), Guenther Neukirchner (Sturm Graz), Thomas Winklhofer (Saarbruecken), Gilbert Prilasnig (Aris Saloniki).
Midfielders: Andreas Herzog (Werder Bremen), Didi Kuehbauer (Wolfsburg), Robert Ibertsberger (Tirol Innsbruck), Alfred Hoertnagl (Tirol Innsbruck), Roland Kirchler (Tirol Innsbruck), Gerald Strafner (Sturm Graz), Markus Weissenberger (TSV 1860 Munich), Stefan Lexa (Unterhaching), Richard Kitzbichler (SV Salzburg).
Forwards: Ivica Vastic (Sturm Graz), Mario Haas (Sturm Graz), Roman Wallner (Rapid Vienna), Christian Mayrleb (Austria Vienna), Edi Glieder (Tirol Innsbruck).
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