VALENCIA - Perhaps, as some local reporters are saying, Valencia is not taking its UEFA Cup match against Maccabi Haifa tomorrow very seriously. These reporters note the fact that the Spanish club plans to bring three or four players off the bench and insert them into the starting lineup against the Israeli opponents.
However, when Maccabi Haifa landed at the Valencia airport yesterday, about 10 television crews and dozens of journalists were waiting. If that shows that no one is taking the game seriously, it's frightening to imagine what happens when teams like Real Madrid or Manchester United pull into town.
Maccabi Haifa Jacob Shahar said on the plane that Valencia is taking the game against his team very seriously. Despite the fact that Valencia did not send scouts to watch Maccabi play in Israel, the Spanish club knows his team well, Shahar added.
Yaniv Katan, who has already scored at Old Stafford and Parc de France, said he was not quite as overwhelmed as during his initial European experiences, "but it is still exciting to play against such a big and strong team, with so many great players. My feet are not shaking quite as much, but it's still a huge event."
Maccabi conducted a long practice last night. Coach Roni Levy said he still has not made a final decision on the starting lineup. Alon Harazi, who is nursing a pulled muscle, left the practice early yesterday and it is not clear whether he will be ready to play tomorrow.
Maccabi's appearance in Valencia is already impressive in one respect: in their dress. In addition to matching suits, they arrived wearing fancy green ties with the team's emblem, ordered from an Italian designer by Shahar.
Some 160 fans joined the team's flight from Israel and another planeload of Maccabi supporters are scheduled to depart for Valencia this morning.
As of last night, it appears that Channel 2 will be broadcasting the game, following negotiations between Maccabi Haifa and Reshet. The cost of the broadcast and production rights were set at about $150,000, a steep price considering the relatively late time slot for the game - 10 P.M. Israel time.
It begins with the practice field
When talking about Valencia's soccer team, its stadium - Estadio Mestalla - is often mentioned as an exciting arena, where the fans sit close to the lines, and so on. Yesterday, it turned out that a team can also be assessed according to its practice facilities and that even the field used for training can be exciting. It's actually a bit insulting to call the club's 180 dunams of soccer fields at Paterna a training facility. It's simply amazing, including everything a coach or player could dream of - heated swimming pools and sauna, exercise and physiotherapy rooms, a movie hall and well-equipped kitchen. And this is before mentioning the soccer fields themselves. The central field also has seats for 3,000 spectators.
Maccabi Haifa's players - including Giovanni Rosso, who once visited here when he played with Hapoel Haifa - couldn't stop talking about these facilities yesterday.
This is yet another difference between the real, classical Europe (in soccer) and Israel, which so desperately wants to be part of Europe. But how important are soccer facilities compared to the fact that Israel's teams cannot even take for granted being able to travel to their away games, as they are subject to the whims of Amir Peretz and the mercy of the labor courts.
Are we asking for so much? Just a bit of normalcy - at least in soccer.
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