Benitez presses for 'crazy' Israel tie to be moved

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The Independent Football

Liverpool will lodge an official appeal with Uefa to have the second leg of their Champions' League third qualifying round tie with Maccabi Haifa next month moved to a neutral country. The 2005 champions were paired with the Israelis at a draw yesterday that was overshadowed by the security implications of staging a game in Israel as the conflict in Lebanon continues.

Rafa Benitez, after having had the news relayed to him at the club's Swiss pre-season training camp, said he was "appalled" at the prospect of having to play in Israel. "It's a crazy situation and totally unacceptable to even think about us going over there at this time," the manager said.

The game is scheduled for 22 or 23 August, after a first leg on 8 or 9 August at Anfield. International football only returned to Israel in April 2004 after a 25-month suspension because of the security situation. During that time, Israeli teams had to host games in neutral countries as diverse as Cyprus, Turkey, Italy and Bulgaria. Even since the suspension was lifted, games have been permitted only in the Tel Aviv area.

"A few years back when I was with Valencia we were drawn to play Maccabi Haifa in a Uefa Cup tie and the match was switched to Cyprus," Benitez said. "The situation then was nowhere near as bad as it is now.

"There is no way we should be going to Israel to play a game of football at this time. It's crazy to even consider it ... I feel sad for the people over there at the moment because it's a terrible time for them, but we have to put the security and safety of everyone involved before anything else and that means we cannot travel there. It would be impossible to concentrate on the game."

Liverpool's representative at the draw, the club secretary Bryce Morrison, held lengthy talks with Uefa, Haifa officials and the Liverpool chief executive, Rick Parry, before deciding to lodge the formal request for the game to be moved. The Anfield club would ideally like to see the match played in the Netherlands.

Morrison said: "Cyprus is not an option because a lot of Lebanese [evacuees] are there at the moment. We would much prefer that the game is played at a neutral ground, somewhere else."

Liverpool are concerned not simply with safety but with travel arrangements. They are particularly concerned about potential insurance problems of flying to a war zone, and the difficulty fans might face in getting to the game.

Uefa will seek safety assurances from Haifa and say that a decision will be made by Wednesday. Haifa insist that they want to retain home advantage and play in Tel Aviv.

In other ties, Arsenal, who were beaten in last season's final, are likely to face Dynamo Zagreb of Croatia, who have a 4-1 first-leg lead over Ekranas of Lithuania in their second qualifying round tie. The second leg is next week.

David Dein, Arsenal's vice-chairman, said that the manager Arsène Wenger may not be able to call upon some of his World Cup players for the match. "Ideally we would like this game a bit later on, but we have to deal with it," he said. "The boys who played in the later stages of the World Cup may not be ready for the game - that is up to Arsène."

Heart of Midlothian, runners-up in the SPL last season, will face AEK Athens if they can convert a 3-0 first-leg lead over Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia into a second-round aggregate win.

Milan will face either Cork City or Red Star Belgrade if Uefa decides next week that they can compete, following their disbarment from the competition in the wake of the country's match-fixing scandal.

Champions' League draw

Third qualifying round: FC Sheriff (Mol) or Spartak Moscow (Rus) v Liberec (Cz Rep); Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukr) v Hafnarfjordur (Ice) or Legia Warsaw (Pol); FC Zurich (Swit) or Red Bull Salzburg (Aut) v Valencia (Sp); Levski Sofia (Bul) or FC Sioni Bolnisi (Geor) v Chievo Verona (It); Hearts (Sco) or NK Siroki Brijeg (Bos) v AEK Athens (Gr); CSKA Moscow (Rus) v Djurgarden (Swe) or Ruzomberok (Slovak); Milan (It) v Cork (Irl) or Red Star Belgrade (Serb); Galatasary (Tur) v Mlada Boleslav (Cz Rep) or Valerenga (Nor); Standard Liège (Bel) v Gorica (Sloven) or Steaua Bucharest (Rom); Austria Vienna (Aut) v Benfica (Por); Ekranas (Lith) or Dynamo Zagreb (Croa) v Arsenal (Eng); FC Copenhagen (Den) or Myllykosken Pallo-47 (Fin) v Ajax (Neth); Hamburg (Ger) v Osasuna (Sp); Metalurgs (Lat) or Dynamo Kiev (Ukr) v Fenerbahce (Tur) or B36 Torshavn (Faroe Isl); Liverpool (Eng) v Maccabi Haifa (Isr); Lille (Fr) v Debrecen (Hun) or Rabotnicki (Maced). (First legs to be played: 8-9 Aug; second legs: 22-23 Aug).