European soccer's ruling body UEFA issued a statment Saturday citing that international games would still be played in Israel, but that they would be examined on a match-by-match basis. This statment basically corrected a previous statment issued Friday, which had completely banned international matches from taking place in Israel due to the security situation.
Matan Vilnai, Minister of Science, Culture and Sports said that the new statment was a big acheivement for Israel.
UEFA on Friday informed Hapoel Tel Aviv that it is to play the first leg of the quarterfinal against AC Milan at the GSP stadium in Nicosia, Cyprus on March 14. A similar notice was delivered to the Italian team.
The stadium, a 25-minute flight from Israel, is the newest stadium in Cyprus. It is used as the home ground for two of the city's teams, Omonia and Apoel and has a capacity of 22,000.
The Hapoel Tel Aviv management flew to Cyprus by private plane Friday morning in order to inspect at least three stadiums suitable for the 8,000 anticipated Hapoel fans and for security demands before deciding on the GSP stadium.
UEFA's decision followed a shooting attack on the Sea Food Market restaurant in Tel Aviv, where two Hapoel players, Yossi Abuksis and Assi Domb, were dining when the gunman struck. Both men escaped unscathed.
The European body said that with the terrorists hitting so close to where the team would be staying and playing, it could not allow AC Milan, or any other foreign team in any competition, to travel to Israel in the foreseeable future.
The delegation to Geneva was led by Sports Minister Matan Vilnai, who tried to persuade UEFA chief executive Gerhard Aigner that he would personally vouch for the safety of the team. Vilnai was accompanied by Rafi Agiv of Hapoel Tel Aviv and other officials, but Aigner was unmoved.
"We have listened to the delegation and the minister and we haven't heard anything we haven't heard before," Aigner said. "Nothing has changed and there are no new elements. They [the Israeli authorities] gave us their arguments about why the match should be played in Israel, but we stand by yesterday's decision which was final."
"We appreciate them seeing us, but we're disappointed the decision has not been changed," Vilnai said. "The government of Israel can guarantee that every team that comes to our country is safe and no player will ever be harmed.
"Mr. Aigner has told us it is not safe to be in Israel so they cannot let AC Milan play there."
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres appealed both spoke to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is also president of AC Milan.
Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said that UEFA's decision was wrong and dangerous, saying imposing a ban meant "capitulating to terrorists."
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