The national soccer team's crucial match against Austria will be played in Israel after all.
Sepp Blatter, president of the game's world governing body FIFA, confirmed yesterday in a letter to his counterpart at the Israel Football Association, Gavri Levy, that the postponed World Cup qualifier will go ahead "in no place other than Israel," despite the unrest in the Middle East.
Blatter added: "The decision to postpone the original game was made without the consultation of the Israeli and Austrian FAs, but after lengthy discussions with international bodies who felt that at that time the safety of the players could not be guaranteed."
Last weekend's vital Group 7 qualifier was called off after a Russian airliner crashed over the Black Sea en route from Tel Aviv, an incident which added to Austria's anxiety about traveling to the region. Prior to last week's postponement, nine Austria players had already pulled out of the trip, claiming that they were not prepared to put their own personal safety at risk.
Levy will attend FIFA's Extraordinary Congress in Prague today, which is due to finalize when and where the match will be played.
Blatter explained in his letter that he had been shown sufficient evidence to suggest that the plane crash over the Black Sea was not the result of terrorist actions and, therefore, there was no reason to switch the game from Israel.
The news of FIFA's expected decision was greeted with satisfaction within the Israeli camp. Team captain Tal Banin said yesterday that the news was "fantastic. The fact that the game is going to be played in Israel will help us enormously. Our supporters will push us to beat the Austrians."
The date of the rescheduled match will be decided during today's meeting, which will also be attended by Austrian FA president Beppo Mauhart and UEFA president Lennart Johansson. The date being propsed by FIFA for the match is November 5, although there is a strong feeling in both the Israeli and Austrian camps that their players would not then be able to recover in time for a two-legged play-off decider against Turkey, which is due to be played on November 10 and 14.
The IFA would prefer for the game to be played in just under two weeks, on October 24. The problem with this date, however, is that there is are several Champions League games planned for October 23 and 24, in which several Austrian players, as well as Fenerbahce's Haim Revivo, are due to take part.
The Austrian Football Association claimed yesterday that it had not received any such announcement from Blatter concerning the location of the vital match.
AFA president Mauhart and team coach Otto Baric refused yesterday to answer questions about the announcement, prefering to wait until today's meeting makes the decision official.
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