Text size

With only three weeks to go before the crucial and deciding World Cup group 7 qualifying match at Ramat Gan, Austrian team members said that they do not want to travel here to play.

The players say that they fear the security situation here, and their opinion appears to be unanimous after team captain and goalkeeper Franz Wohlfarth canvassed opinion from squad members.

Wohlfarth handed a petition on behalf of his teammates to Beppo Mauhart the president of the Austrian FA, which said that in the light of the terror attacks on the U.S. and in anticipation of what might transpire they are frightened to travel here.

Other players such as Andy Herzog, Roland Neukirschner, Mario Haas and Ivica Vastic also turned to the Austrian FA and voiced similar concerns.

But speaking on Channel 5's Sports News program last night, Wohlfarth sounded a little different. "If the situation improves we will arrive but you must also understand us, we have families. If FIFA forces us to travel (to Israel) then we won't disobey the order," he said.

Reassurances

In an effort to reassure the Austrians that their fears were unfounded, Levy wrote to Blatter yesterday, telling him that there was no reason for the Austrians to fear for their safety.

Levy told Blatter that if he wanted to verify the state of security in Israel, he could speak to the heads of the FAs of previous visitors to Israel in World Cup qualifiers.

In the letter, Levy explained that the upcoming match was one of the most important in Israel's soccer history.

If Israel win they will finish second in group seven to earn a play-off against Turkey.

Austria's APA agency quoted Levy as saying: "We shouldn't let ourselves be intimidated by terrorism. We have to go on living normally.

"There are terror attacks all around the world, not just in Israel," he said, pointing to London and Northern Ireland as other examples.

Levy said that the Austrian team would have a police escort from the moment it landed and that thousands of police and security officers would guarantee that nothing happened to the Austrians inside or outside the National Stadium.

Spain have already won the group and qualified for next year's World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea.

Israel need to beat Austria to take second spot in the group and earn a place in the play-offs against Turkey.

Austria will reach the play-offs if they win or draw the match.