Soccer / UEFA Cup / Hap. Tel Aviv Could Get Burned by UEFA Ruling on Fans' Fire

Sources familiar with the situation believe Hapoel will almost certainly be slapped with a fine.

Hapoel Tel Aviv could suffer a technical loss and be forced to play matches without fans should the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body hold the team responsible for the fiery incident during the first leg of a UEFA Cup second qualifying round match against ?iroki Brijeg in Bosnia last week.

Hapoel faces charges for improper behavior by its fans, who set the stands on fire with torches after the team scored its first goal of the game. UEFA is charging ?iroki Brijeg for poorly organizing the security aspects of the game and for its fans hurling firecrackers during the match, which Hapoel eventually won 3-0 after a 30-minute delay.

Sources familiar with the situation believe Hapoel will almost certainly be slapped with a fine. They also believe UEFA could impose a technical loss and place attendance restrictions on Hapoel if it rules the fans are guilty of causing a disturbance. Should UEFA decide to suspend Hapoel for a number of games, it will give the Bosnian club enough time to cancel its flight to Tel Aviv.

The date of the hearing, August 27, does not bode well for Israel's State Cup holders because it is three days before the second leg in Tel Aviv. UEFA public relations officials stressed that had the events been deemed minor, they would have made a decision by yesterday. A UEFA representative confirmed the governing body considers the offenses "very serious" and that suspension is a realistic option, even if that won't "necessarily" be the final decision.

UEFA spokesman William Gayard told Haaretz the governing body had learned from the experience of its disciplinary hearing with Partizan Belgrade and Bosnia's Zrinjski. In that case, UEFA kicked Partizan out of the UEFA Cup only after the return leg was played, which Partizan won 6-1. Therefore, he explained, UEFA wanted to hold the hearing to prevent a "potentially meaningless match."

The only point in Hapoel's favor is its clean record to date and the fact that ?iroki Brijeg is also being charged with disciplinary violations. The team does plan to bring to the hearing a list of actions the club intends to take against the fans involved in the incident to try and limit the penalty.

?iroki is also preparing for the hearing. Club management prepared a film compiled from security cameras in the stands to prove that Hapoel fans were the ones who started the disturbance. The club's officials also claim the video shows Hapoel supporters bringing torches.